WASHINGTON (Feb. 4, 2015) – The R Street Institute praised members in both houses of Congress today for introducing reform legislation aimed at improving the privacy of Americans’ electronic communications.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act of 2015 will update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to improve privacy protections for electronic communications stored or maintained by a third-party service provider. The House version of the bill is sponsored by Reps. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, and Jared Polis, D-Colo., along with 227 co-sponsors. The Senate measure is sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as well as six other co-sponsors.

The bills require search warrants based on a showing of probable cause in order to compel a service provider to disclose e-mail and other private electronic communications, a requirement that will apply no matter how old the electronic communications are.  Under current law, the government need only use a subpoena to obtain electronic communications if they are more than 180 days old.

“These bills represent a long-needed improvement of privacy protections under a decades-old law,” said Mike Godwin, director of innovation policy at R Street. “When ECPA was first crafted in the 1980s, it was incorrectly assumed that e-mail was a comparatively rare, business-centered channel of communications. In the 21st century, however, all Americans know how much their individual personal privacy may be damaged by unchecked government agencies capturing gigabytes of older email.”

“This legislation affirms that Americans have reasonable expectations of privacy in their email accounts and other personal and professional content stored online,” Godwin said. “However, it does so while preserving the legal tools necessary to conduct criminal investigations and protect the public.”

“Reps. Yoder and Polis, and Sens. Lee and Leahy should be commended for their efforts to expand privacy protection of all Americans,” he said.

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