TechFreedom: Search my electronic communications? Not without a warrant

Free market technology think tank TechFreedom announced Thursday its decision to support a U.S. government update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) to enforce the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“The Constitution delicately balances privacy with the needs of law enforcement by making judges responsible for determining whether law enforcement has established ‘probable cause,’” said TechFreedom president Berin Szoka in a statement Thursday.

TechFreedom encouraged its supporters to sign the online petition at or show their support by “liking” the petition on Facebook.

ECPA — enacted as a federal statute to specify standards for government monitoring of cell phone conversations and Internet communications — allows the federal government to monitor cell phone and Internet communication without a warrant. This week marks the 25th anniversary of when the act was passed.

The “judicial warrant requirement has always been the crown jewel of our civil rights,” said Szoka.

While today’s political environment is decidedly split between the left and the right, there are several issues on which both technology groups on both sides are able to agree upon. Privacy is one of those issues.

The laws surrounding privacy, tech groups say, are outmoded and need to be updated for the very reason that more and more Americans are able to access the Internet. Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure without a judicial warrant, therefore, needed to be reclaimed and protected.

“Our Founding Fathers would be appalled to learn that this fundamental principle does not extend to our electronic communications and location,” said Szoka. “After all, they fought — and won — a revolution to prevent similar abuses by British authorities.”

The coalition, Digital Due Process, states that its goals are, “To simplify, clarify, and unify the ECPA standards, providing stronger privacy protections for communications and associated data in response to changes in technology and new services and usage patterns, while preserving the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws, respond to emergency circumstances and protect the public.”

Coalition members include Center for Democracy & Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, TechFreedom, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, Defending Dissent Foundation and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

“In May 2011, [Democratic] Sen. Patrick Leahy, the original author of ECPA, introduced the ECPA Reform Act. It would require a warrant for government searches of email and other electronic communications. It also would require a warrant for real-time or prospective tracking,” stated Internet advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology on its website.

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