Text of letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 210 national advocacy organizations, we write to express our support for Chairman Leahy’s and Senator Lee’s Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013 (S. 607). This bipartisan legislation would help ensure that information like email has the same legal protection as letters or information held by individuals in their homes.
Privacy laws have not kept up as technology has changed the way Americans hold their personal information. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) not been extended to protect Americans using social networking sites from government observation, and also fails to protect online records and communications in areas as varied as email, cloud computing, and smart phones. In many circumstances, this weak statutory scheme has a disproportionate impact on racial minorities. For example, a 2010 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed that the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services monitored social networking sites that cater to specific racial and ethnic demographics.[i]
Outdated laws allow law enforcement to circumvent the right to privacy, probe personal communications, and track an individual’s whereabouts without any evidence of wrongdoing. In August 2011, an Associated Press report revealed a massive surveillance department established within the New York Police Department (NYPD) after 9/11 to monitor Muslim neighborhoods and infiltrate their community organizations.[ii] According to officials involved, undercover officers were sent out to investigate all parts of daily life in these communities including bookstores, bars, Internet cafes and clubs looking for “hot spots” of “radicalization.”
Updating privacy laws to require a warrant for access to sensitive personal information will ensure that police are following proper investigative guidelines and will help guard against profiling. S. 607 updates ECPA to provide protection to communications such as email, private social network posts, and other information stored in “the cloud.”
For all of these reasons we urge you to support S.607, the ECPA Amendments Act of 2013, which will update ECPA to meet 21st century needs. If you have any questions, please contact Nancy Zirkin (202) 263-2880, or Corrine Yu, Leadership Conference Managing Policy Director, at (202) 466-5670.
President & CEO
Executive Vice President
[i] Jennifer Lynch. “New FOIA Documents Reveal DHS Social Media Monitoring During Obama Inauguration.” Electronic Frontier Foundation. October 13, 2010. Available at https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/08/tpp-creates-liabilities-isps-and-put-your-rights-risk
[ii] Highlights of AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning probe into NYPD intelligence operations. The Associated Press. Available at http://ap.org/media-center/nypd/investigation