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E-mail privacy reforms cause back-and-forth on Capitol Hill

Email on a computer screen.
Email on a computer screen.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

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The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was a statue enacted in 1986 as a means to set privacy parameters on new and growing technologies. As one might imagine, any phone, computer or other device from 1986 would be woefully out-of-date in today’s society. Some politicians and many technological experts feel the same way about the ECPA itself.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), has taken it upon himself to tackle this issue, and has drafted an amended version of the ECPA. Leahy’s version specifically alters the rules of access law enforcement agencies have over private e-mail accounts, requiring them to obtain a court-approved warrant as opposed to an administrative subpoena. Unsurprisingly, groups such as the National Sheriffs’ Association, the National District Attorneys’ Association and the U.S. Department of Justice voiced their displeasure of Leahy’s changes.

After this, tech website CNET made a report that Leahy again altered the bill, allowing for searches without a warrant. With an air of confusion now surrounding Leahy’s proposal and stark opponents on both sides of the issue, it is clearer than ever than some substantial changes must be made to bring this old law kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

What are the concerns for those who want the ECPA to stay as is? What about those calling for reform? How will Leahy be able to navigate this thorny topic in a particularly contentious political environment?


Declan McCullagh, Chief political correspondent and senior writer for CNET

Joseph Cassily
, past President of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA); current State's Attorney for Hartford County, Maryland