Petition to reform ECPA, warrantless email access, passes 100,000 signatures; White House required to respond

Petition to reform ECPA, warrantless email access, passes 100,000 signatures; White House required to ...

A White House petition to reform the ECPA, a law that makes it legal for the government to access your emails without a warrant, has passed the 100,000 signature mark. The milestone means the US government has to issue an official response.

It was a close call: today was the last day for Americans to sign the petition. The figure was reached just under the one-month window:


The 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) has become more and more outdated as the Internet evolves. The provision currently allows the government to acquire stored content from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) without showing probable cause that a crime was committed. The law has been widely criticized over the years since people now share, store, and use data differently on the Web.

For example, email on a third party’s server stored for more than 180 days is considered by the law to be abandoned, and the government only requires a written statement certifying that the information is relevant to an investigation. That means no warrant is needed to obtain the content of the emails.

This is because emails were once stored on third party servers for short periods of time: just long enough to be transferred to the receiver’s email client. At the time, all emails were stored on personal or work computers. Nowadays, email services such as Gmail and are prevalent enough that most users store emails online indefinitely.

Google in particular has been pushing very hard to get this petition into the six-figure range. Many of the company’s employees (including Vic Gundotra and Matt Cutts) have been sending out requests on Google+ and via other means urging users to sign.

For reference, here’s the petition’s description:

Americans are deeply concerned about NSA surveillance.

But the NSA’s not the only problem. An outdated law says the IRS and hundreds of other agencies can read our communications without a warrant.

That law, known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), was written over 25 years ago, before the services we use today even existed.

Right now, several bills in Congress would fix this by updating ECPA to require a warrant, but regulatory bodies are blocking reform in order to gain new powers of warrantless access.

We call on the Obama Administration to support ECPA reform and to reject any special rules that would force online service providers to disclose our email without a warrant.

Hopefully the Obama administration will give a response worthy of 100,000 signatures.

Top Image Credit: rendo79

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