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We the people ask the federal government to Take or explain a position on an issue or policy:

Reform ECPA: Tell the Government to Get a Warrant

Created by M.S. on November 12, 2013

Americans are deeply concerned about NSA surveillance.

But the NSA’s not the only problem. An outdated law says the IRS and hundreds of other agencies can read our communications without a warrant.

That law, known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), was written over 25 years ago, before the services we use today even existed.

Right now, several bills in Congress would fix this by updating ECPA to require a warrant, but regulatory bodies are blocking reform in order to gain new powers of warrantless access.

We call on the Obama Administration to support ECPA reform and to reject any special rules that would force online service providers to disclose our email without a warrant.

Response to Petition

A Response to Your Petition on ECPA

Thanks for adding your name to a petition asking us to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

It's obvious that many -- and arguably, most -- Americans today use email as one of their primary means of communication. Particularly in an era where we keep so much of our lives online, the content housed there deserves strong privacy protections -- which is at the core of what ECPA was designed to do. But over time, technology has evolved.

Which is why our policy teams agree with you: ECPA is outdated, and it should be reformed.

You're right that protecting your privacy in the digital age and balancing law enforcement needs with privacy concerns is about far more than one agency or one program. And there's no question that sometimes the standards governing our technology fall out of date. The ways that we communicate with one another are continually developing.

ECPA was written in an era before cloud computing, when remote storage was commonplace -- and the average hard drive didn't have enough storage for a single photo (which was fine, because digital cameras hardly existed at that point anyway).

Today, some of ECPA's components therefore seem outdated. The Act treats 180-day-old emails as effectively abandoned. It accords emails marked "unread" a different standard of protection.

That's why this Administration has gone on the record about the need to update ECPA and to address these outdated distinctions. A report issued last year underscored the need to "ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical world."

We know there are still important details being worked out across government and in the halls of Congress. We aren't going to endorse a single ECPA-reform bill at this time. As any given bill goes through committee and makes its way to the House and Senate floors, the draft is negotiated and modified to address concerns and strengthen the bill.

That said, we're encouraged by the strong bipartisan support for updating this legislation in both chambers of Congress, and are looking forward to seeing this law address today's technological realities while preserving the interests we must protect.

Follow @WeThePeople on Twitter all day long for a series of Q+As with various Administration officials on the petition responses we released today.

Tell us what you think about this response and We the People.

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