The Time is Now for Transparency and ECPA Reform

Yael Weinman photo

Google’s most recent U.S. Transparency Report issued today underscores the glaring need for greater transparency and better due process by the U.S. government when it obtains information from companies on their customers. The Google report details the number of requests it received from U.S. law enforcement agencies about how customers have used the company’s services. It also details the number of accounts impacted in connection with those requests.

Like prior U.S. Transparency Reports, these statistics don’t include requests the company received pursuant to the U.S. government’s authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). That’s because the company is legally barred from doing so. This needs to change. The law needs to be changed to allow companies to disclose to the public the number of requests they receive pursuant to FISA and the number of accounts impacted. ITI has been advocating for this and other transparency reforms in connection with FISA in a series of submissions (August 20, October 3, October 24).  

Google’s U.S. Transparency Report also highlights the need for Congress to act now on reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The number of U.S. law enforcement information requests to Google in the 6-month period ending in June 2013 was 10,918.  That’s a 29% jump from the previous 6-month period. And the jump in the number of accounts impacted was 47%.

This means an increasing number of requests – and accounts impacted – are being governed by an outdated law.  ECPA must be updated so that law enforcement is required to obtain a warrant in order to gain access to online content.

ITI urges Congress to make ECPA reform a priority and approve a clean reform bill that wouldn’t allow civil agencies to get a pass on a bright line warrant for content requirement.  

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