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Hearing of the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee - ECPA Part 1: Lawful Access to Stored Content


Location: Washington, DC

Chairman Goodlatte: The dawn of the digital age and the explosive development of communication methods has brought with it faster ways to compile, transmit and store information. These developments have produced faster and more efficient ways to do everything from conducting commerce to connecting with friends.

Unfortunately, criminals have found ways to convert the benefits offered by new technology into new ways to commit crimes. At the intersection of these activities are the privacy rights of the public, society's interest in encouraging and expanding commerce, the investigative needs of law enforcement professionals, and the demands of the Constitution.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was designed to provide rules for government surveillance in the modern age. The technology of 1986 now seems ancient in comparison to today's. The interactive nature of the Internet, now including elements such as home banking and telecommuting, has produced an environment in which many people may spend hours each day "on-line." In this context, a person's electronic communications encompass much more today than they did in 1986. Indeed in 2013, a person's electronic communications encompass much more than they did in 2000, when Congress acknowledged that much had changed since the original ECPA of 1986. ECPA reform must be undertaken so that despite the evolution of technology and its use in the world, the constitutional protections reinforced by ECPA will endure.

ECPA was intended to establish a balance between privacy and law enforcement. In addition, ECPA sought to advance the goal of supporting the development and use of new technologies and services. Those original tenets must and will be upheld as this law is improved.

There are many investigations in which ECPA is working, and working well. Pedophiles who sexually assault children and distribute video recordings over the Internet have become increasingly savvy. They encrypt their communications and use technologies to hide their identities and whereabouts. Investigators routinely use court orders under ECPA to identify these offenders, uncover caches of child pornography that has been stored remotely "in the cloud," and develop probable cause to execute warrants and arrest them.

ECPA reform is one of the top priorities of the House Judiciary Committee. Technology will help us solve many of the pressing problems our nation currently faces. We need to make sure that the federal government's efforts are focused on creating incentives that encourage innovation and eliminating policies that hinder it. In updating a law passed before the creation of the Internet, the modernization of ECPA needs to provide electronic communications with protection comparable to their more traditional counterparts and take into account the recent boom in new technologies like cloud computing, social networking sites and video streaming. That's why we will modernize the decades-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act to reflect our current digital economy while preserving constitutional protections.
This particular hearing focuses on issues related to the lawful access to stored communications under the current law. It is becoming clear that some reforms are necessary, but this committee will move toward modernization and reform after a thorough review and with input from all stakeholders.

I look forward to working with all members on both sides of the aisle to modernize the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

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