This morning, Congress has taken a significant step towards defining privacy for the digital age in a way that will benefit startup companies and their users. The Email Privacy Act -- a common-sense piece of legislation that would bring ECPA (the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986) better in line with how the Internet actually works -- is supported by a majority of the House of Representatives. This kind of support, before a bill even comes to a vote, is an important sign that policymakers and their constituents understand that something must be done.
The Email Privacy Act gives online documents the same privacy protections granted to physical documents. Specifically, the bill would require government agencies to obtain warrants from a judge in order to force service providers to disclose private emails and documents they store online for their customers.
Since data play an increasingly important role for many startups, any uncertainty over compliance increases the burden of time and resources needed to handle the issue. The current status quo also disenfranchises businesses and consumers, and places an added strain on user trust. Under the current law, a complex legal request from law enforcement would force businesses to chose between facing fines and legal action while protecting their users, or complying with the government at the cost of alienating users.
The Email Privacy Act clarifies existing law, and provides a much-needed update to bring regulations in line with the digital age. We thank Reps. Yoder and Polis for their leadership on this important issue, and with majority support we look now to House leadership to move this bill, and we hope they act swiftly to pass this common sense reform.