Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) Due to be Updated

September 24, 2012 - 3 minute read

Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 was the United States law that updated the Federal Wiretap Act of 1968. The older Wiretap Act covered landlines but not necessarily wireless communication. The increase in digital/electronic communication called for the act to be amended. The USA Patriot Act played a part in that particular amendment being implemented.

The modifications protect wire, oral, and electronic communications while they are being made, sent, and stored. This would cover all email, phone conversations, and any electronically saved information. Even though the ECPA has been updated at least four times, it does not happen automatically. With technology advancing at such a rapid pace, there has been cause for concern as to the frequency of the updates. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that the “online privacy law shouldn’t be older than the Web, and Americans shouldn’t have to choose between new technology and privacy”. They believe that the law should “safeguard location information, institute appropriate oversight and reporting requirements, require a suppression remedy, [and] craft reasonable exceptions”.

The requests for another update have reached Congress to the point where further amendments are being discussed. Some of the issues to be addressed, according to U.S. Politics Today are “information stored for longer than six months… information stored in cloud-based storage accounts (e.g. Dropbox, Facebook, Google) [being] freely accessed, the number of times the government [accesses] such information… [as well as] how the ECPA may be applied”. Much to the relief of all the inquiries on a update, there is a bill in the works that will address this specific cloud stored information issue. The alleged bill intends to provide the needed balance between Americans being able to protect their information and law enforcement being able to do their jobs efficiently.

U.S. Politics Today suggests that “people who hold emails, pictures and other information indefinitely on servers or cloud-based storage systems should be wary of privacy limits”. In other words, until the ECPA is updated again, we should continue to protect our information to the best of our ability.


American Civil Liberties Union article “Modernizing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)”

U.S. Politics Today article “Electronic Privacy Law May Soon Be Updated”

Justice Information Sharing – Privacy & Civil Liberties

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