Cloud storage and electronic communication have become a way of life for most Louisianians. You post details of your life on Facebook or Twitter, manage your calendar on your smartphone, share digital photos online and keep financial information in Dropbox for easy access. Unfortunately, our nation’s privacy laws have not kept pace with the ways Louisianians store and share their personal documents.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA, the federal law that governs these types of communications, was written in 1986, in a time when cellular phones and personal computers were high-end luxury items. ECPA gives government agencies remarkable power to access and read electronic communications without any of the basic protections provided by the Fourth Amendment, which provides that “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
For instance, the government can obtain old emails with a simple subpoena to Google or Microsoft, with no warrant required, no hearing in front of a judge and often no notice given to the email’s author.
Those same emails, printed out on your home printer, would be subject to the full protections of the Fourth Amendment.
Bipartisan efforts are currently underway in Congress to bring ECPA up-to-date with modern methods of communication. The proposed legislation would require government agencies to simply get a warrant before they can read private communications that we choose to store online. The proposed bills strike an intelligent balance between the needs of law enforcement and our rights as citizens, providing law enforcement with emergency exceptions and clarifying procedures for these agencies to lawfully obtain the evidence they need.
Cloud computing and electronic media give Louisiana businesses flexibility in the market and provide us with new and remarkable ways of connecting to each other as human beings. Louisiana’s congressional delegation should lead the effort in supporting technological innovation and bring American privacy laws into the 21st century.
LSU’s Law Center