Compliance Management, Government Regulations, Privacy

Act would require gov’t to get warrant for electronic content, geolocation data

A bipartisan effort in the House has resurrected a bill that would require government agencies to obtain a search warrant — after showing probable cause — before intercepting electronic communications such as email and geolocation information or compelling disclosure of that data.

“Fourth Amendment protections don't stop at the Internet,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said in a press release Monday, as she and two colleagues re-introduced the Online Communication and Geolocation Protection Act, designed to meet Americans' expectation that Constitutional protections “extend to their online communications and location data.”

Passage of the bill, first proposed in 2013, would bring what some see as a much-needed update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), rendered outdated by ever-evolving tech advances, by setting clear standards for the collection of electronic information in an effort to preserve consumer privacy.

“Advances in technology and the Internet have drastically changed the way we communicate, live and work,” noted Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., co-sponsor of the bill, who called it Congress's responsibility to be a “good steward of policy to ensure our laws at least keep pace.”

She noted that current laws offer “more protections for a letter in a filing cabinet than email on a server” and the OCGPA would “update privacy protections for consumers while resolving competing interests between innovation, international competitiveness and public safety.”

In addition to governing the collection of electronic communications and location data, the revised bill would preserve the exceptions in the original act for emergencies, foreign intelligence surveillance, individual consent, public information and emergency assistance.

It would also prohibit service providers from disclosing geolocation data to the government unless the under warrant or by exception. And geolocation data could not be used as evidence if it is unlawfully obtained. If the data is unlawfully intercepted or revealed, the act allows for recourse, in the form of administrative discipline and civil cause of action.

“Whether an individual's property is physical or digital, it must be protected from snooping government eyes, as required under the Fourth Amendment,” said the bill's third sponsor, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, calling for the modernization of the existing act.

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