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Is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act outdated?

You're arrested and accused of fraud. When you get to court, the police have email messages that you wrote two years ago.

You have no idea how they got them. You didn't turn them over. Police never got a warrant. Doesn't that violate your right to privacy?

The reality is that the police only have to wait 180 days to look at your emails, as long as they're on the cloud and not a personal machine. They can look at pictures, attached documents and even the drafts that you wrote and never sent. That's all thanks to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).


The ECPA's name makes it sound like a good thing, an act passed to protect your privacy. Certainly, in today's world where electronic communication is more popular than ever -- there's a good chance it's the main way you communicate with friends, relatives and business associates -- it sounds like a necessary act. That information may be on the cloud for backup purposes, but isn't it still your personal information?

The problem is that the ECPA wasn't written in today's world. It passed in 1986 and lawmakers wrote it prior to that.

An outdated document

Many have argued that this document is massively outdated. They certainly have a point.

In 1986, electronic communications were far different. Most people had never sent an email. Photo-sharing was nearly unheard of. Websites felt like a strange new world. "The cloud" was not a term anyone used when talking about data storage. Social media wasn't even a dream yet; Facebook wouldn't start for nearly two more decades.

Technology has progressed at an astounding rate. Now it's shocking to find someone without an email account. Smartphones are pretty standard; they're just "phones" now. The amount of pictures and personal information on the internet is unprecedented. Many people use cloud computing to store data without even thinking about it or perhaps even realizing that's what they're doing.

You couldn't use a computer from 1986 to access any of your current files. Why use an act from 1986 to protect your privacy?

The Email Privacy Act

Some lawmakers have made an effort to update the ECPA. The most important document is perhaps the Email Privacy Act. It would cut out many of the major loopholes and give people the privacy that many already assumed they had. While it is important to watch how it progresses, the EPA has only made it through the House of Representatives and is not yet a law.

Your rights

Your privacy rights are very important, especially as the Fourth Amendment pertains to illegal searches. Since this has turned into a point of contention as technology speeds forward, it's more important than ever to know what rights you have.

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