When Congress feels the need to compromise Americans’ privacy in the name of security—as in the case of the Patriot Act in 2001 or the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act last month—it moves remarkably fast. When it comes to protecting Americans’ privacy from the inexorable advancement of data collection and law enforcement technologies, on the other hand, it seems to act with no such urgency.
Now a collection of state legislators are tired of waiting. On Wednesday 16 states’ lawmakers, with the advice and coordination of the American Civil Liberties Union, introduced bills designed to shore up Americans’ privacy on a long list of issues that federal lawmakers have either ignored or allowed to become paralyzed in Congress’s endless gridlock. That collective legislative push, which the ACLU is calling Take CTRL, addresses everything from student and employee privacy to new police surveillance techniques.
Now Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and North Carolina are all proposing their own variations on an ECPA reform bill to protect stored data. If Congress doesn’t fix ECPA, these states may do it themselves. “These are big states. If they move along with California, you’d have significant portions of the country covered by high standards for law enforcement access,” says Chris Calabrese, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “That begins to change the discussion.”