US communications privacy law in for a change?

As technology speeds progressively forward, privacy laws need to get updated.

As the amount of information we share and keep online – on social networks, stored in cloud services or on mail servers – increases, it becomes more and more important for us to know who might one day have access to that information.

The US Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) has been ratified 25 years ago, when it became obvious that electronic communication has become an occurrence as common as that via telephone, and that decisions about whether the government had the right to access private electronic communications would have to be made.

Currently, that law allows law enforcement and government agencies to get access to email communications of any person without needing a search warrant – as long as the emails in question have been stored for over 180 days.

But U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, one of the authors of the ECPA, deems that the time has come to change that provision and has proposed an amendment to that law to the U.S Senate.

In short, it would require the authorities to obtain a search warrant in order to access the suspect’s electronic communications stored by communications, cloud computing or any other service provider, regardless of the amount of time the information was stored for.

And Senator Leahy didn’t stop there. He proposed that the geolocation information collected and stored by mobile devices should also be accessible to law enforcement only upon obtaining a search warrant.

According to SC Magazine, the only government agency that would be exempt from these requirements is the FBI, and that is only if the suspect is tied to a terrorism or national intelligence case.

While this is all good news for people who value their privacy, it still remains to be seen if the bill will be approved and ratified.