Proposed act would require the US government to secure a warrant before reading your email

Proposed act would require the US government to secure a warrant before reading your email

Today three members of the US House of Representatives, Lofgren, Poe, and DelBene, introduced the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act (OCGPA), calling it a reformation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986.

The ECPA is notoriously out of date. Its email provisions regarding when email can be read by the government are lax enough to be embarrassing. As TNW reported, this is the extent of how backwards the ECPA is today:

Key to the issue is the fact that the ECPA is decades old legislation, and that under its regulations any email that is more 180 days old and has been read can be accessed with nothing more than a subpoena. The goal was to change that requirement to a formal warrant to access any electronic communication.

Efforts to reform that specific issue passed the Senate.

What Rep. Lofgren and company have in mind is more extensive than simply plugging an email loophole. In their take, the ECPA fails to “clearly require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to access the content of Americans’ online communication,” and “fails to include any clear standards for law enforcement access to location information, such as tracking an individual’s [sic] cell phone location.”

The OCGPA fixes that, by requiring that a warrant be acquired if the government wants to get its hands on your electronic communications – of all sorts – or any of your geolocation data.

However, the OCGPA in fact goes further than that, blocking “service providers” from sharing a user’s geolocation information to the government sans a warrant. In short, there would be no voluntary sharing of your data, only in the presence of a warrant.

This could have implications on cybersecurity legislation. Given that the sharing of public information with intelligence agencies is a key concern among privacy advocates examining proposed legislation regarding the topic, the OCGPA would erect a wall to limit such disclosures. Or perhaps at least require that personally identifiable information be stripped.

The OCGPA was introduced by a cadre from both parties. Let’s see where it goes.

Top Image Credit: Zoe Rudisill

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