Strange bedfellows come together on electronic privacy

The effort to modernize the nation’s electronic privacy laws has brought together a coalition of strange bedfellows from the right and the left.

Reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) has been an objective of civil liberties advocates for over a decade, but the fast-changing nature of technology is increasing pressure to update the law.

ECPA was originally created to amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, also called the Wiretap Statute, to specify restrictions on government eavesdropping on wireless and electronic communications.

Katie McAullife, federal affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform, told The Daily Caller that the coalition was a “no-brainer,” stating that it represents “libertarian, Republican, Democratic and liberal viewpoints.”

McAuliffe noted that subpoenas — not judge-signed warrants — are all that the law currently requires for law enforcement needs to access a person’s email or cloud content from a third party without their knowledge.

“Given how easy it is to get a subpoena, moving to a system that makes a warrant mandatory to access someone’s content held by a email or cloud provider only makes sense, especially if you’re familiar with the Fourth Amendment,” said McAullife.

The Digital 4th Coalition, first launched in March with a mission to modernize ECPA, was initially comprised of advocacy groups Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Heritage Action for America — the DC-lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation — joined the coalition last week, adding to the coalition’s numbers and lobbying strength.

“Nothing gets passed in congress without bipartisan support, and so we’ve pulled together a group that can reach both parties in Congress,” Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, told The Daily Caller.

She said that the coalition thinks that “privacy is one of those common ground issues” and that ECPA reform has “a lot of grassroots appeal.”

“Whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, you’re concerned whether your email is being read, whether your location is being tracked, and people want the protections of the Fourth Amendment,” said Murphy, stating that the Fourth Amendment needs to be brought into the digital age.

Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action for America, told The Daily Caller that the conservatives he has spoken with about the issue “see the necessity of ECPA reform.”

“They are, with good reason, inherently skeptical of legislative solutions, but understand the unique dynamic caused by the rapid growth in technology, a decades-old law, and the lack of clarity from the courts,” he said.