Digital 4th is a non-partisan coalition dedicated to bringing Fourth Amendment protections into the 21st century. Our members are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Heritage Action for America, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). While we come from different political, economic and social perspectives on many issues, we stand united in our common belief that private communications should be protected across all platforms, whether they occur online, over the phone or through the mail.
Federal law today does not treat all communication the same. Private communications online are far less protected than conversations over the phone or letters through the mail. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA, established standards almost 30 years ago for government access to private information that is transmitted and stored on the Internet.
When ECPA passed in 1986, it was intended to extend Fourth Amendment protections to communications conducted over the Internet. After 1986, technology changed rapidly, but the law remains virtually the same. It does not, for example, take account of the development of the Internet “cloud,” where companies and individuals now store vast amounts of private and proprietary information. It does not establish any specific standard for law enforcement access to location information generated through use of cell phones.
Digital 4th supports updating ECPA to ensure that whether your information is stored online, in the cloud or in a file cabinet, government officials must go through the same search warrant process to access it. We also support updating ECPA to provide the same, consistent warrant requirement for tracking cell phone location over time.
Our goal is to simplify, clarify, and unify ECPA’s standards, providing stronger privacy protections for communications in response to changes in technology. Digital 4th at the same time supports preserving the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce laws, respond to emergency circumstances and protect the public.