We’ve written a few times recently about the importance of ECPA reform, to bring a woefully out of date law into the 21st century. Specifically, we’ve urged people to sign this White House petition in favor of ECPA reform. That petition closes soon, and it’s still a bit short of the 100,000 goal.
Why is this important to you? Because, without it, it’s much easier for the government to snoop on your emails without a warrant. What people want is for emails and regular mail to be treated the same, which is simply not the case today.
While this is a separate issue from the NSA stuff, it does matter quite a bit, and this is a chance for there to be a real win that helps protect your privacy. Fighting against this proposal are a variety of government agencies, led by the IRS and the SEC, which have made good use of this loophole to read emails without getting a warrant. This is not what the law was intended for at all. It’s a loophole based on the outdated law, which was written in 1986, before anyone could comprehend things like web-based email. The IRS and SEC like having this loophole, and they don’t want it to go away. In fact, they want it to be made explicit, rather than an accidental loophole of history. That should be a massive affront to folks who believe in the 4th Amendment and the basic concept that a search should require a warrant based upon probable cause.
I know that many people have dismissed the whole concept of White House petitions, and take a rather cynical view of the whole thing. That’s a very dangerous approach here, only helping to further the problems:
- Yes, it’s true that the White House has ignored certain petitions in the past. It’s also true that there are certain issues where the White House doesn’t really seem to care what people have to say, it’s made up its mind.
- But, that is not always the case, and the White House has used these petitions to take strong positions in the past — including on things like SOPA and mobile phone unlocking. When accompanied by a strong campaign beyond just the petition, the White House seems open to taking certain issues more seriously. This is one of those.
- By all indications, there are some in the White House who agree that ECPA is out of date and needs to be fixed. There appears to be an internal debate about where the official White House position will be — whether it’s siding with the IRS and SEC — or with the 4th Amendment rights of the public. Having a ton of signatures from the American public on their side will absolutely help those in the White House who support real and meaningful ECPA reform push back against the agencies.
- This isn’t an empty gesture. There are bills in the House and Senate to fix ECPA, close the loopholes and protect your 4th Amendment rights. Getting White House support could finally push those bills over the edge and make them law.
- Sticking with the cynical approach and refusing to sign guarantees failure. Not signing works to the advantage of the IRS and SEC and others who like using this loophole. Even if you’re cynical about this, signing the petition at least gives it a chance to influence the debate.
And, yes, I know that outside of the general debate over ECPA, people will look at the NSA situation and argue that it doesn’t really matter what the law says. That’s not true. Yes, the NSA issue is a big one that needs to be dealt with, but this is about a loophole that goes way beyond the NSA, and is used and abused by different government and law enforcement agencies. Here’s a real chance to push back on that and to score a real victory for privacy. Letting cynicism and apathy dictate your move here guarantees that the forces pushing against your 4th Amendment rights win. So take a chance and sign the petition.
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