Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments

In the coming days a vote will be presented before the Senate Judiciary Committee with the possibility of modernizing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. I strongly encourage you to read up on the proposed amendment which requires the government to obtain a warrant before searching your email accounts and online storage. Digital Due Process is also a good resource for information from a consortium of top tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. If you feel as strongly about your online privacy as I do, I encourage you to call or write your Senator, especially if they are a member of the committee.

Below is the full text of my email to California Senator Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Dear Senator Feinstein,

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a vote is appearing before you in a few days that I feel very passionate about. Sen. Patrick Leahy has proposed amendments to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act in H.R. 2471 that bring the privacy laws governing electronic communication and storage into coherence with the increasingly digital society in which we live and the expectation we have about the privacy of our data.

Modifications to Section 2710 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code would allow video providers such as Netflix, Comcast, or NBC to release information about my viewing activities with my consent to third-parties, who may be able to visualize or process that data in new ways, or better recommend shows or movies I might like. Currently, no use of this data is permitted due to the ECPA's criminal penalties.

More importantly, modifications to Section 2703 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code would require a search warrant in order to view the contents of my email accounts or electronic storage, not just proof that this information "appear[s] to pertain to the commission of a crime". This would hold the federal government accountable for user data requests, which in the first half of the year (January to June 2012) affected 16,281 unique user accounts of American citizens on Google's services alone (http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/userdatarequests/).

As a software developer for Microsoft's Hotmail and Outlook.com online email services, I know how important the data we keep in electronic storage is, what kinds of pains we take to ensure that users' data is safe from adversaries and even ourselves, and how important privacy is to us as a service and as a company. It goes against our culture and beliefs and the good faith of our customers when we are so easily compelled to provide this data to the government.

Email, cloud computing, and mobile technology have reshaped the way we communicate and how that information is stored and processed. It's a travesty that the laws dedicated to protecting the privacy of that information have not adapted as well. Strengthening these provisions helps add stronger protection for all citizens' online privacy and holds the government accountable for its actions.

I encourage you to read more at http://digitaldueprocess.org/, where a large number of technology companies, including top innovators such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter argue more persuasively for reform this area than I can. That said, I strongly urge a vote in favor of this resolution and ask for your continued support for increased privacy protection in our online world.


H. Parker Shelton
Microsoft Corporation
Johns Hopkins University '10