Friday, September 24, 2010

US Senate considers update to Electronic Communications Privacy Act

This past week, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the possible update of the American Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The statute, passed in the 1980s, is in urgent need of an overhaul in an age of cloud computing. The law has its origin in (in my view, perverse) caselaw that says you have no expectation of privacy from the government once you've handed your information over to a third party. The law provides different standards (subpoena vs search warrant) based on the age of the message and whether it has been previously read by the intended recipient. In an age of cloud computing and the widespread use of text messaging, one high standard is required.

From the industry side, the effort for reform is led by the Digital Due Process Coalition, made up of industry leaders such as Google and Microsoft. For a great overview of the issue and the hearings, see here: Senate considers update to Electronic Communications Privacy Act | Gov 2.0. The Google Public Policy blog has information on Google's position, including the written statement by Richard Salgado, their senior lawyer responsible for this area: Digital Due Process: The Time is Now.

The Judiciary Committee page has a webcast link if you want to see the hearing.