What is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act?
“Electric communication”, as defined by the United States Federal Government, means any transfer of signals, writings, signs, images, data, sound or intelligence of any form transmitted in whole or in part by radio, wire, photo electronic, photo optical or electromagnetic medium that alters interstate or foreign commerce. An electronic communication; however, does not include any oral or wire communication, any communication delivered through a tone-only device, any communication delivered from or to a tracking device, or an electronic fund transfer prepared through a financial institution in a communication medium for the storage or transfer of monies.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act protects all oral, wire and electronic communications while in transit. The law establishes requirements for search warrants and enforcement issues if any illegal activity is observed during communication. In general, the Act provides protections against unscrupulous and tyrannical behavior imposed by a governing body. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act upholds the constitutional provisions of right to privacy by instituting restrictions regarding the state’s ability to track, observe, listen or penalize forms of electronic communication.
A provision of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, known as the Stored Communications Act, protects communications held in electronic storage, including notably messages stored in computers. The protections issued; however, will not impose heightened standards for the acquisition of warrants. This provision of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) prohibits the use of pen register and trap devices to record an individual’s dialing, addressing, routing or signaling information used in transmitting electronic or wire communications. To partake in this procedure, a state or law enforcement agency must produce a formal court order.
History of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986:
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 was passed by the United States Congress to implement and extend government restrictions regarding the use of wire taps on telephone calls and transmissions of electronic data by way of computer. More specifically, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 amended Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (informally known as the Wiretap Statute), which prevented unauthorized government access to private electronic communications.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 also implemented new provisions, which prohibited access to stored electronic communications. Later, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 was amended (and weakened) by provisions of the United States Patriot Act. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, when amended, enacted provisions to protect wire, electronic and oral communications while said communications are being delivered in transit and when they are stored in computer devices. As such, the amending of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 updated the law to now apply to telephone conversations, email and electronically-stored data.
Titles of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA):
Title I of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act prohibits intentional or attempted interceptions, use, disclosure, or procurement of any individual to intercept any oral, wire or electronic communication. Title I of Electronic Communications Privacy Act provides exceptions only for service providers and operators for use in a normal course of employment while engaged in activities that are deemed necessary. Furthermore, the provision permits persons authorized by law to intercept oral, wire or electronic communications or to conduct surveillance so long as it adheres to the provisions of section 101 in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Title 1 of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act also instituted procedures for Federal, State and local government offices to abide by; these entities are required to obtain judicial authorization to intercept said forms of communication. Furthermore, the section regulates the use and disclosure of all information obtained through wiretapping. According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a judge may only issue a warrant authorizing interception for up to 30 days if the agency or officers shows a probably cause that the interception will reveal evidence that the subject is committing, is planning on committing or has committed a crime.
Known as the Stored Communications Act, Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act protects the privacy of the materials and contents of files stored by service providers. Additionally, the provisions protect all personal information, including an individual’s name, IP address and billing address, which is stored by a service provider.
Title III of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (Pen Register and Trap and Trace Statute) orders all government entities to obtain search warrants before collecting real-time information, such as routing, addressing and dialing information related to communications.
Civil Rights Associated with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act:
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is a complicated statute that is enshrouded in technical terms and an assortment of abstruse regulations. To clarify the provisions of the act, it is helpful to understand the intent of its drafters. The structure of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act reflects various classifications that indicate the drafters’ beliefs about mediums and kinds of information implicate severe or inconsequential privacy interests.
The drafters of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act saw a greater privacy interest in stored e-mails than in subscriber account information. Similarly, the individuals responsible for the Electronic Communications Privacy Act believed that computing services that are rendered available to the public should be attached with strict regulations when compared to services that are not made available to the public. Furthermore, the aim of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act is to protect an assortment of privacy interests through offering varying degrees of legal protection. Although some information can be acquired from service providers through a mere subpoena, other information will require the obtainment of a specialized court order. In general, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act providers greater protection for the more paramount privacy interests.
Exempt to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act:
• The United States Census Bureau
• The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics
• Archival purposes (information has historical value)
• Law enforcement reasons
• Congressional Investigations
• Administrative purposes
• Routine uses, such as the external sharing of information outside the said agency