Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a benchmark bill to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which he authored in 1986.
The recent breaches of the Sony online networks and marketing company Epsilon’s e-mail database have called more attention to digital privacy issues. Leahy’s bill, the ECPA Amendments Act of 2011, aims to bring the current law up to date on the issues surrounding electronic privacy.
“When I led the effort to write the ECPA 25 years ago, no one could have contemplated these and other emerging threats to our digital privacy,” Leahy said in a statement. “Updating this law to reflect the realities of our time is essential to ensuring that our Federal privacy laws keep pace with new technologies and the new threats to our security.”
The new legislation would require a search warrant showing probable cause to look at e-mail and other electronic communications. This eliminates the “180-day rule” which mandates the government only obtain warrants for unopened e-mails that have been stored for 180 days or less.
Addressing location data, the bill would require the government to obtain a warrant or court order issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to access location data from a smartphone or electronic communications device.
The bill would also make it legal for agencies to delay notifying someone that the government has accessed their electronic communications if that disclosure would harm national security.
Leahy’s amendment would also create a limited exception to the nondisclosure requirements to allow service providers to tell the government or a third party important information in the event of a cyber attack.