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Ask a Congressman: Email Privacy Act

Rep. Tim Ryan is one of the co-sponsors of the Email Privacy Act (EPA) and one of our more tech-savvy legislators (his Twitter feed is actually a great source of tech news). We were fortunate enough to have him stop by /P to answer our burning questions about the EPA and other issues.

Here’s a little background:

The ability of law enforcement in the United States to access the public’s email is currently governed by a law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). It was written in 1986—before the creation of the World Wide Web.

The tech community has long complained that lawmakers lag behind innovation. How, in this example, is a law that existed in a pre-Netscape world applicable to cloud-based email services? Alleged abuse of the ECPA recently drove Microsoft so far as to sue the Justice Department.

Thankfully, there are people who get it. In this instance, a lot of people. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the EPA—a badly needed update to the ECPA—with a unanimous vote of 419-0. Among other updates, the bill would require authorities to get a search warrant before asking email service providers to allow access.

Now we wait to see what the Senate does with its version of the bill. Some senators reportedly have concerns about the impact on law enforcement. As Rep. Ryan told the /P community, it’s important to keep an open dialogue going with lawmakers and to share the informed perspective of the developer community.


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