Alliance of businesses, nonprofit groups seeks update of electronic privacy law


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A group of businesses and advocacy organizations, including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Tuesday that it is calling for an update to a decades-old privacy law it considers seriously outdated. The law governs how and when law enforcement agencies can access citizens’ private electronic communications.

Dubbing itself Digital Due Process, the group said the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was written in a time before the Web had become a ubiquitous communications medium, where users around the world store huge amounts of personal information for years or even decades at a time.


Prosecutors and law enforcement frequently request e-mails and other online data when performing investigations, but private companies have argued that the guidelines for such requests have become too loose for their comfort.

In the nearly quarter-century since ECPA was enacted, the Due Process group said, it has been variously interpreted by courts, creating contradictions that have confused both consumers and service providers. ‘Consequently, the vast amount of personal information generated by today’s digital communication services may no longer be adequately protected,’ said the group’s website.

Though representatives from Google and Microsoft, as well as several digital advocacy groups, were on a conference call announcing the coalition, the law enforcement community was not represented.

Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said law enforcement had not officially endorsed the campaign but recognized there were issues in the aging statute.

Dempsey also said he doubted that legislation to fix the issue would get off the ground this year but hoped this campaign would provide the impetus for reform in the near-term.

-- David Sarno