WASHINGTON, April 23 -
Mr. Speaker, 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 is called. But the IRS' job is just beginning. Now they will put their police hats on.
Recently, Mr. Speaker, I learned something disturbing that most Americans probably are unaware of. Let's 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 Joe's knowledge or consent.
Government agencies have the authority to snoop around through private emails and 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 Well, it's called the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act, ECPA.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 The world of 1986 is gone, and it has been replaced by a world with free, instant, unlimited email storage, high-speed broadband, and cloud computing.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 of a citizen, without their consent, without a warrant, and without that 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 it has probable cause to believe a crime is being committed. Technology may have changed, but the Fourth Amendment still applies to the Internet.
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 bank safety deposit box, the government must get a warrant to go through 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 activity.
Mr. Speaker, that's an invasion of privacy and an affront to the liberty of every American. Why should the law treat digital data stored in the cloud differently than papers stored in a file cabinet or property in a safety deposit box? It really is no different.
The law must be updated to protect every citizen's right of privacy from the 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 actually have stronger privacy protections for people who use the cloud. That's what the CEO of Data Foundry, a Texas-based data services provider, has warned. Companies will take their business to other shores that protect personal privacy.
Mr. Speaker, this is the United States. We were founded on the ideals of universal liberty and the right of privacy. That's why Representative 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.
The bill requires the government to show probable cause and obtain a search warrant to access electronic communications, just as it would to tap somebody's phone or go through somebody's mail or look in their 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 cell phones.
As technology continues to evolve and improve, Congress must ensure that the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens are protected, even today, with the Internet. The IRS and other government agencies should not be allowed to violate the Fourth Amendment right of privacy. Technology may change, but the Constitution does not.
And that's just the way it is.