Updating ECPA: An Electronic Privacy Law for the 21st Century

Capitol Hill Briefing
May 21, 2010 12:00PM
226 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Featuring Julian Sanchez, Research Fellow, Cato Institute; Will DeVries, Policy Counsel, Google; and Greg Nojeim, Senior Counsel and Director of the Project on Freedom, Security and Technology, Center for Democracy and Technology.

In 1986, Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a broad framework detailing how law enforcement could conduct surveillance on burgeoning digital communications networks. But the dawn of the Internet as a mass medium, the increasing ubiquity of location-sensitive mobile devices, and the explosive growth of cloud computing have radically changed the technological landscape since then. Yet the law remains largely stuck in the 80s, a 20th century legal operating system for 21st century communications — leaving courts unclear on questions as basic how much privacy protection e-mail enjoys. A broad coalition of technology firms and civil liberties groups is now seeking to update the law for the internet age and to lay out clear rules that reflect modern expectations of online privacy. With Congress slated to hold a series of hearings on ECPA reform in coming months, our panel will examine the problems with current law and the changes needed to provide effective surveillance tools for law enforcement without eroding user privacy or stifling technological innovation.