WASHINGTON, April 23 -
Last week Americans across the fruited plain filed their taxes with everyone’s favorite government agency---the IRS, or the Internal Revenue Service as it’s called. But IRS’ job is just beginning; now they will put their police hats on.
Mr. Speaker, I recently learned something disturbing that most Americans are probably not aware of. Say, the IRS decides to snoop around and secretly investigate a citizen named Joe and his taxes. Right now, the government can go to Joe’s email provider, demand his email records and check on his finances that are stored in the cloud, all without his knowledge or consent! Government agencies have the authority to snoop through private emails, photos, as long as they are 180 days old, NO WARRANT REQUIRED. How is this possible? Well, it’s called the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).
ECPA was passed back in 1986, the stone age of technology, when most Americans didn’t even own a home computer much less use email or store things in a “cloud”. Today we have tweets, g-chats, texts, instagrams, emails, and yes, the cloud. The world of 1986 is gone, and it has been replaced by a world with free, instant, unlimited email storage, high-speed broadband and cloud computing. Americans keep many of their most personal possessions online indefinitely: family photographs, schoolwork, sensitive communications, financial records, business plans, personal calendars and even weekend shopping lists. In other words, Big Government can force a private company to turn over private information, without consent and without a warrant and without a person’s knowledge. This circumvents the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable searches and seizures” of Americans’ “persons, houses, papers and personal effects.” Government should get a warrant if probable cause exists to believe a crime is being committed.
Technology may have changed, but the fourth amendment still applies. The government can’t tap our phones without a search warrant. It can’t read our mail without a warrant or enter our homes or search our records that we keep in file cabinets. If a person stores information in a safety deposit box, the government must get warrant to seize it. But ECPA authorizes the government to read emails and social media messages or any property stored in the “cloud”. Without a warrant and without evidence that someone is engaged in criminal behavior.
Mr. Speaker, that is an invasion of privacy and an affront to the liberty of every American. Why should the law treat digital data stored in the “cloud” any differently than papers stored in a file cabinet in our home or property stored in a deposit box? It is no different.
The law must be updated to protect every citizen’s right to privacy from Big Government. Government’s unrestricted authority to demand private information stored in the cloud “will kill cloud computing” by destroying confidence in U.S.-based services and driving businesses to other countries, which have stronger privacy protections. That’s what the CEO of Data Foundry, a Texas-based data services provider has warned. Companies will take their business to other shores who protect personal privacy.
Mr. Speaker, this is the United States, we were founded on the ideals of universal liberty and right of privacy. That’s why Representatives Zoe Lofgren, and I have introduced bipartisan legislation to modernize the outdated ECPA. Our bill protects Internet users from intrusive and unwarranted big brother surveillance. This bill requires the government to show probable cause and obtain a search warrant to access electronic communications just as it would to tap someone’s telephone or go through someones mail or safety deposit box. The government would need a warrant to compel service providers to produce documents stored in the cloud and to intercept or demand disclosure of personal location information generated by our cell phones.
As technology continues to evolve and improve, Congress must ensure that the Fourth Amendment rights of our citizens are protected. The IRS and any other government agency should not be allowed to violate the 4th amendment right of privacy.
Technology may change, but the Constitution does not.
And that’s just the way it is.