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Sunday, Jul 06 2014 11:01 PM

KATIE McAULIFFE: We must protect our privacy in the digital age

Our Founding Fathers adopted the Declaration of Independence in order to create a nation where its people would have rights to freedom, liberty and privacy. While most Americans celebrated our nation's independence this past weekend with family, friends and fireworks over the weekend, we are focusing on how our Fourth Amendment rights are being eroded in this digital age.

The Fourth amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to be "secure in our persons, houses, papers and effects." However, that right is being threatened by outdated laws that have not kept pace with advances in technology over time.

One area in particular that has suffered is our digital privacy. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was passed in 1986 in an attempt to extend Fourth Amendment protections to the digital space. However, at that time, most Americans did not use email, and there was no foresight that we would one day store the majority of our personal communications, photographs and documents in the "cloud." ECPA in its current form says the government can access this information without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, using a mere subpoena issued by a prosecutor or investigator with no judicial review.

Though Americans' online communications are currently vulnerable to government snooping, there is pending legislation in the Senate and House of Representatives that could remedy the gaping hole that exists in our privacy rights. The Email Privacy Act would extend protections to Americans' private communications stored in the cloud. This legislation, lead by Reps. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., has garnered broad, bipartisan support from more than half of the members in the House. This is legislation new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy could help move forward to ensure Americans' private communications stored online are protected. Moreover, there is clear momentum for protecting Americans' data with the Supreme Court's recent ruling that Fourth Amendment protections extend to cell phones.

The Fourth Amendment protects physical documents stored in our homes and offices, letters sent through the mail and data stored on our cell phones, but not our electronic communications. Congress needs to take charge in updating ECPA for the digital age. This is reform that is necessary to ensure Americans' privacy online is adequately protected and it's an issue that has vast support across ideological lines, with organizations as diverse as Americans for Tax Reform and the American Civil Liberties Union behind the effort. There is no better time of year to pass ECPA reform and extend the privacy rights that our Founding Fathers initially sought 238 years ago.

Katie McAuliffe is federal affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform.

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