For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312;

ACLU Joins AT&T, Google And Privacy Groups To Urge Updates To Privacy Law

The American Civil Liberties Union today joined with a broad
coalition to urge Congress to make much-needed changes to the laws that
protect the privacy of electronic information. Congress passed the
Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in 1986 – before the Web
was invented – and it has not been properly updated to reflect the vast
changes in technology since then. The coalition, named Digital Due
Process, joins together the ACLU, AT&T, Google, Microsoft, the
Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation and
other privacy groups.
Digital Due Process will be working with Congress, law
enforcement agencies and other relevant government officials to ensure
that ECPA is brought up to date.
“Our privacy laws desperately need an upgrade,” said Laura W.
Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Technology
has evolved at a lightning pace, leaving our privacy protections out of
date and ineffective. The Fourth Amendment guarantees us the right to be
secure in our ‘papers and effects’ and that means something entirely
different in the 21st century. Many of our ‘papers and
effects’ are no longer tangible in the same way they used to be but
still must be defended from the overreaching hands of government.
Congress must step up and make the much-needed changes to the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act.”
Digital Due Process priorities include restricting the sharing of
Americans’ location information and records of electronic
communications. Eighty-two percent of Americans own cell phones which
transmit location information every minute of every day, and countless
e-mails and text messages are sent daily. Digital Due Process is asking
that ECPA be updated to require government officials to obtain a warrant
based on probable cause before allowing access to any of those
electronic records, just as they have always had to do for similarly
sensitive personal papers. The ACLU believes the efforts being urged by
the coalition to update ECPA are critical first steps, but is asking
Congress to make even further changes to the law.
“An electronic privacy law that was written the year ‘Top Gun’
was in theaters is clearly in desperate need of an update,” said
Christopher Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “As more and more
Americans live their lives online we need to make sure their privacy
remains solidly protected, but as it stands, the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act falls very short. Comprehensive protection
for records of our e-mails, texts and cell phone locations is the very
least that needs to be done. It’s time for Congress to update this law.”
In addition to the changes being pursued by Digital Due Process,
the ACLU is asking that Congress modernize ECPA to:
  • Robustly Protect All Personal Electronic
    must ensure that current loopholes in our privacy laws are closed to
    ensure that electronic information, including most transactional
    communications, receive full warrant protection regardless of their age
    or nature. 
  • Institute Appropriate Oversight and Reporting
    . So Congress
    can fulfill its oversight role and ensure adequate transparency to the
    public, existing reporting requirements for wiretap orders must be
    extended to all types of law enforcement surveillance requests. 
  •  Require
    a Suppression Remedy
    . Just as non-electronic information
    illegally obtained by law enforcement is not admissible in a court of
    law, the same should be true of illegally obtained electronic
    information. The discrepancy in the law encourages government
    overreaching and must be changed to require a judge to bar the use of
    such unlawfully obtained information in court proceedings. 
  • Craft Reasonable Exceptions. Overbroad exceptions are also depriving
    Americans of their rightful privacy protection. Currently ECPA sometimes
    allows access to the content of communications without a true
    emergency, without informed consent or oversight and without prompt
    notice to the subject. These overly broad exceptions must be amended to
    properly safeguard Americans' privacy rights.
More information on the ACLU’s work with online privacy can be
found at:
More information on the coalition’s work to update ECPA can be
found at the coalition’s page

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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