25 Years Old and Time to Grow Up: The Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Friday, October 21, 2011

In the early months of 1986, my parents bought my sister and me our first computer, an Apple IIe, and all of a sudden I was playing Oregon Trail at home, in color no less!  That summer, I watched in awe as Ferris Bueller effortlessly hacked his way into the school computer to change his absences.  He was indeed a righteous dude, and thus began my ill-fated campaign to acquire a modem.  

Unfortunately, my dad’s logic at the time was bulletproof: “Who are you going to call?”  I had no idea.  I had never sent an e-mail. I had never heard of the World Wide Web, and the most complicated device I carried with me was a calculator watch.    
It is almost trite to say that much has changed in the 25 years since 1986, but the advancements in technology during that time are almost unfathomable.  It is not a stretch to say that technology has changed virtually every part of our lives in the past quarter century. I can’t begin to imagine how my 10-year-old self would have reacted to the touchscreen alone on my current smartphone, much less search engines, instant messaging, social networking, e-readers, streaming media, or the cloud.   
One thing that has not changed since 1986, however, is the law that protects the privacy of your online communications from government intrusion, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).   
Although forward-looking in its time, ECPA is now outdated.  Because Congress hasn’t updated privacy law in the past 25 years, the government has the ability to gain access to reams of information about you.  This includes reading your emails, tracking your location with your cell phone, accessing private Facebook posts, reviewing your search histories and browsing habits, or reviewing where you logged in to twitter to see else might have been in the room.   
Because ECPA doesn’t account for these technologies, the government can do all of these things without having to obtain a search warrant by proving to a judge that there is probable cause to search through your life. 
You have a right to be free from unwarranted government intrusion into your private life.  Where much of our private lives exists in digital form, however, your privacy will be at risk until Congress updates ECPA.   
Join us in asking Congress to update ECPA today.