Last week, the ECPA amendment that would greatly enhance Americans’ privacy has passed its first hurdle in the Senate. Now the bill will head for a proper vote in the Senate and House next year. If passed in its current state, the bill will force law enforcement to obtain a warrant when snooping through your email. Law enforcement groups wont give up without a fight though, and are even adding other communication methods to the negotiation table.
CNET reports that law enforcement groups have submitted a proposal to the US Senate asking them to pass a law that would require wireless carriers to Americans’ text messages for two years. The groups argue that text messages, much like email, are increasingly required in criminal investigations.
What information would be stored under the proposed law? It’s not exactly clear at the moment, but it could go in two directions. Either law enforcement wants access to all of your texts including what you said in them, or they just want the metadata that includes the sender and recipients of the text. My guess is on the former considering law enforcement’s push to have nearly limitless access to Americans’ emails.
While it sounds like a flagrant abuse of power and an imminent invasion of privacy, the law enforcement groups do have one point that should be considered. There needs to be a standard on if and how wireless carriers store text messages. Among companies, there’s no consensus on how long this data must be stored as some companies keep records for years while others keep no records at all.
It should be noted that this is just a proposal for now. There’s no telling if the Senate will take it up as an added amendment to the ECPA early next year, but chances are pretty good. Law enforcement really wants the warrant requirement to die, but it may not get that. Setting a standard for how long wireless carriers must hold onto text messages would be a nice consolation prize.
ECPA is going to be a hot ticket item as the 113th Congress begins early next year. There are going to be a lot more amendments proposed from both sides of the aisle, and it has the potential to get really messy.
In short, this is one to bust out the popcorn for. It’s gonna be good.