Google's legal director Richard Salgado is due to testify before a committee at the House of Representatives this morning on reforming email privacy law to help both users and Google. In prepared remarks published on Google's Public Policy Blog today, Salgado says the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was good when it was enacted, but that times have changed and so much user content is now cloud-based that the law has created "inconsistent, confusing, and uncertain standards" and that "the law fails to preserve the reasonable privacy expectations of Americans today."
"The law fails to preserve the reasonable privacy expectations of Americans today."
Other companies and privacy advocates have spent years calling for updates to ECPA. The law currently gives government agencies and law enforcement organizations the ability to request all user email older than 180 days with just a subpoena, while access to newer email requires a stricter search warrant. The law has also been used to enable the government to request other cloud-based user information and even mobile device location information. But Google and those calling for reform want to see search warrants required to access all stored web user info and emails, regardless of their freshness or whether users have opened them.
Salgado's testimony says that the government should reform the law so that other companies will have less hesitation about trusting their employee's email and communications privacy to Google. He also makes an argument that Google Apps and cloud-based services are helpful to national security, writing "removing artificial and counterproductive legal standards that hinder movement to services offered by providers like Google will help strengthen our nation’s network security." Salgado notes that already, five million businesses have signed up for Google Apps, and argues that their privacy should be better protected from government requests. Whether Congress takes him up on that remains to be seen. A collection of House lawmakers introduced an ECPA reform bill earlier this month, but the Senate had the chance to move forward on an ECPA reform bill last year and never did so.