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Google cheers growing support for ECPA reform

Years after Google first began raising concerns about the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the tech titan's efforts to get Congress to care might be bearing fruit.

Google is cheering for a small uptick of support for ECPA reform in Congress, but there's a long way to go before new privacy protections for electronic communications such as emails become law. Google

Four years after Google first began raising warnings about the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a small but significant milestone has been reached in attempts to get Congress to update the bill to better protect your data.

The ECPA reform bill (PDF) to prevent the collection digital data without a warrant has for the first time a majority of support in the House of Representatives. Google is calling the growing bipartisan support for the bill a "long-overdue" "common sense reform."

"While well-intentioned when enacted in 1986, ECPA no longer reflects users' reasonable expectations of privacy," Google senior privacy policy counsel David Lieber said on the company's blog.

Sponsored by Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Sam Graves (R-GA), and Jared Polis (D-CO), House bill 1852 would strengthen digital due process protections by mandating that any government attempt to gain access to electronic communications stored with a service provider obtain a warrant first.

Currently, ECPA creates different classes of electronic content, so that where an email is stored, how old it is, and whether it has been opened can determine what kinds of protection the email would receive.

"The Department of Justice itself has acknowledged that there is no principled reason for this rule," Lieber said.

The ECPA changes still face a long road ahead. While Google says that it agrees with the 2010 federal appeals court ruling that declared unconstitutional the portions of ECPA that pertain to email storage, and the reform bill now has a slim bipartisan majority of support in the House, it still must be voted on by a Congress notorious for its inaction. Furthermore, the bill is likely to face political opposition from the Justice Department, which has argued against reform.