When it was enacted in 1986, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) reflected cutting-edge thinking about how to deal with a cutting-edge issue: the rules for government access to private electronic communications. But ECPA’s standards and the privacy safeguards they once provided have been outpaced by advances in technology and the new ways in which Americans use electronic communications.
When ECPA was adopted, for example, almost no one had access to email, and certainly, no one stored documents online “in the cloud.” Cellphones resembled shoebox-sized walkie-talkies and were considered a novelty, not a necessity. Not surprisingly, the rules created by ECPA make little sense when applied to today’s technology and the ways in which electronic communications are central to Americans’ lives. Thus, it is imperative that Congress push forward with efforts to reform and update the law.