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White House silent on privacy debate

Here’s an interesting question. What do Jimmy Kimmel, the Death Star, major league baseball and home brewing all have in common? The White House has responded to public petitions dealing with each of these subject matters. 

What’s not on this list? ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) reform which would update the country’s woefully outdated digital privacy law, originally written in 1986.  One year after the White House petition to reform ECPA received support from over 112,500 concerned Americans, well above the 100,000 signature threshold required for a response, the White House has yet to issue a reply.  One year later digital privacy reform is more important than ever and the White House needs to uphold its commitment to responding to public petitions and deliver a formal response on clean ECPA reform, with no carve-out for civil agencies.   

{mosads}ECPA is the law governing Americans’ online privacy. As currently written, the law affords the government and law enforcement officials unwarranted access to the American people’s private online communications. With a mere subpoena from a judge existing as the gateway to our emails, photos, financial records and other documents stored online, our private documents in the cloud are left incredibly vulnerable.   

While our personal online communications currently lack the full protections granted by the 4th amendment that our documents stored in a drawer or file cabinet receive, there was legislation pending in 113th Congress that would have fixed that. The Email Privacy Act, sponsored by Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in the House, along with the ECPA Amendments Act sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate, would have redressed the outdated law to protect Americans in the digital age. As the 114th Congress begins in January, this issue will continue to gain support and momentum through the actions of its champions and past co-sponsors. 

Both pieces of legislation have broad, bipartisan support, garnering more than 270 co-sponsors in the House and the backing of senators like Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). In addition to the wide breadth of support from those in Congress, major corporations, small businesses, start ups, advocacy groups and policy makers have all joined together to fight for clean ECPA reform. 

Despite this momentum, one federal agency is standing in the way of ECPA reform: the SEC. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is working to keep ECPA reform from coming to fruition by fighting to keep this gaping hole in online privacy rights open for civil agencies. The SEC would like to weaken privacy protections on the web, continuing to leave Americans’ online communications vulnerable to intrusion. The White House must decide if it stands with the SEC – which claims to be an “independent” agency – or the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are calling for their online privacy to be protected. 

This is an issue that transcends party affiliation and can overcome the gridlock that far too often plagues Congress. As support continues to grow, the White House should join the tens of thousands of Americans across the country in supporting clean ECPA reform. 

There’s no denying the importance of discussing how funny Jimmy Kimmel is, the merits of building the Death Star, that the opening day of baseball season should be a national holiday and how to make home brewed beer.  All kidding aside, America’s digital privacy laws matter a lot more.  ECPA impacts every single American and provides an important protection, or lack there of, over their online communications, from emails to social media posts to sharing family photos with loved ones over the web. 

Over 112,500 Americans want to know where the White House stands on ECPA reform and after a year of waiting they deserve to find out.

O’Connor is president and chief executive officer of the Center for Democracy & Technology and a member of the Digital 4th coalition.

Tags Jeanne Shaheen Kevin Yoder Mike Lee Patrick Leahy Rand Paul

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