Leahy, Lee Introduce Legislation To Update Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Press Release

By:  Patrick Leahy Mike Lee
Date: March 19, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday to strengthen the 27-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and better protect digital privacy rights.

"No one could have imagined just how the Internet and mobile technologies would transform how we communicate and exchange information today," Leahy said of the original ECPA law, which he authored in 1986. "Privacy laws written in an analog era are no longer suited for privacy threats we face in a digital world. Three decades later, we must update this law to reflect new privacy concerns and new technological realities, so that our Federal privacy laws keep pace with American innovation and the changing mission of our law enforcement agencies."

"When ECPA was enacted, email was primarily a means of communicating information, not storing it," said Senator Lee. "Today, we use our email accounts as digital filing cabinets, where we store many of the personal documents and sensitive information that the Fourth Amendment was meant to protect. This bill takes an essential step toward ensuring that the private life of Americans remains private."

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013 establishes a search warrant requirement in order for the government to obtain the content of Americans' emails and other electronic communications, when those communications are stored with a third-party service provider. The bill eliminates the outdated "180-day" rule that calls for different legal standards for the government to obtain email content depending upon the age of an email, and it requires that the government notify an individual whose electronic communications have been disclosed within 10 days of obtaining a search warrant.

ECPA reform was the subject of two Committee hearings in recent years, and the Senate Judiciary Committee last November favorably reported legislation substantially similar to the Leahy-Lee bill introduced today. In January, Leahy said that updating ECPA was his top privacy priority for the 113th Congress.

"I thank Senator Mike Lee for cosponsoring this important privacy bill," Leahy said. "Senator Lee and I understand that protecting Americans' privacy rights is something that is important to all Americans, regardless of political party or ideology."