In an opinion column for InformationWeek, Joe Rubin, acting head of Federal Government Affairs for the technology trade association TechAmerica, writes about the need for major updates to electronic privacy laws:
Last month’s release of Google’s Transparency Report detailing government and court requests for user data highlights a growing challenge to service providers like Google and other technology companies: How to meet the skyrocketing number of requests from government authorities for data while working under murky and unclear guidelines.
The report reveals that demands by US law enforcement agencies for user account data from Google rose 30% in the last six months. A significant percentage of these demands come from civil regulatory agencies who want access to users’ email and other stored documents from online providers — using subpoenas they issue themselves, with no judicial or other third-party review. […]
TechAmerica, like the rest of the technology community, consumer groups, privacy advocates, and others, are supporting legislation that would ensure that government agencies should be able to access these files only with a warrant issued by a judge.
Specifically, we are urging Congress to pass an update to the nearly 30-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). This statute, written before companies like Google and Facebook even existed, is in desperate need of Congressional revision.
The changes proposed by this legislation will bring the law up to speed with the way Americans communicate today, ensuring that law enforcement is required to obtain a warrant to access all stored content, regardless of age.
This common-sense change is vitally important to the technology community and to any American who uses email. Currently, email or other stored content older than 180 days does not require a warrant for access, which we consider woefully inadequate. The bill ensures that there is one standard for all content, and it provides the necessary clarity for US technology companies.