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Government Surveillance

White House Still Silent on Warrantless Email Snooping

Last December, over 100,000 Americans signed a petition to the White House urging the President to support an end to warrantless email snooping. The 100,000 signatures are enough to require an official response, according to the rules of the White House petition site, but nearly four months have passed and the White House remains silent.

The petition specifically called on the Administration to support reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the woefully outdated law from 1986 that says the government can access emails and other documents stored in the cloud without a warrant. Updating ECPA to ensure that digital communications have the same Fourth Amendment protections as postal mail should be a no-brainer, especially during this time of heightened concern for digital privacy. The tech industry and groups from across the political spectrum support ECPA reform. A bill to update ECPA has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and over 200 Members of the House have cosponsored legislation to require warrants for digital content.

However, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulatory agencies are pushing for an exception that would give them new powers to access Americans’ emails. And the White House remains on the fence, refusing to support clean ECPA reform, and even refusing to respond to the citizens’ petition on its own website.

Instead of promoting a reform that is “shovel ready,” the White House has launched a lengthy review of the privacy implications of “big data.” CDT agrees that the combination of increasing data collection and more sophisticated analytic tools clearly poses challenges to privacy, but talking about big data is no replacement for protecting our data.

For that reason, we are urging citizens to use the White House comments page on big data to remind the Administration that there is one privacy reform that needs no more study.  If you agree that the White House should support an end to warrantless email snooping, join us by telling President Obama the time for ECPA reform is now.