TechFreedom: Search my electronic communications? Not without a warrant

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Free market technology think tank TechFreedom announced Thursday its decision to support a U.S. government update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) that would clarify the electronic application of Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.

ECPA, a law enacted to specify standards for government monitoring of cell phone conversations and Internet communications, allows the federal government to monitor wireless and online communications without a warrant. This week marks the law’s 25th anniversary.

In May, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, ECPA’s original author, introduced the ECPA Reform Act. The proposed update would require the government to obtain a warrant before searching email and other electronic communications. A warrant would also be required to track a suspect’s location.

“The Constitution delicately balances privacy with the needs of law enforcement by making judges responsible for determining whether law enforcement has established ‘probable cause,’” said TechFreedom president Berin Szoka in a statement.

TechFreedom encouraged its supporters to sign an online petition or show their support by “liking” the petition on Facebook.

The “judicial warrant requirement has always been the crown jewel of our civil rights,” said Szoka.

Privacy is one issue that transcends the left–right divide among technology groups. And privacy laws, the groups say, need to be updated for the very reason that more and more Americans are able to access the Internet.

Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure without a judicial warrant, they insist, need to be reclaimed and protected.

“Our Founding Fathers would be appalled to learn that this fundamental principle does not extend to our electronic communications and location,” said Szoka. “After all, they fought — and won — a revolution to prevent similar abuses by British authorities.”

The coalition, Digital Due Process, states that its goals are to “simplify, clarify, and unify the ECPA standards, providing stronger privacy protections for communications and associated data in response to changes in technology and new services and usage patterns, while preserving the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws, respond to emergency circumstances and protect the public.”

Coalition members include Center for Democracy & Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, TechFreedom, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, Defending Dissent Foundation and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

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