Why I’m Calling for Better Privacy Laws for Email and Online Document Storage

What You Need to Know about ECPA

Privacy laws in the United States regarding emails and online document storage are very archaic. Currently, the Electronics Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) designates that email stored for longer than 180 days is not protected communication. Therefore, access to archived email requires only a subpoena rather than a warrant. Broadly, documents and files stored online are treated like archived email.

There is a growing choir in congress realizing the need to update these laws to reflect the modern internet. The ECPA was passed in 1986, and at the time this provision “kind of made sense”. The thinking was that email stored after 180 days was abandoned. You just didn’t archive and hold onto lots of electronic data because online document storage was prohibitively expensive.

Fast forward to 2013, and the ECPA simply does not protect your digital assets from unwarranted government intrusion. Simply put, we need a complete revision of digital privacy laws in the United States. This is a topic that every user of online services (and online document storage apps, in particular) should familiarize themselves with.

Progress Toward Better Legislation for Email and Online Document Storage

The Senate already passed efforts to reform the ECPA last year.

On March 7th, three members of the US House of Representatives introduced the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act (OCGPA), geared at plugging the “loophole” that erroneously lumps online document storage into the same category as archived email.

On March 13th, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced his support for changes that would require the government to obtain a warrant to access online documents and email.

We need this law updated to reflect modern digital capabilities. Americans deserve more thorough protections of their digital assets.

About the Author

Michael Webb, Chief Technology Officer – SmartVault Corporation


As Chief Technology Officer and a founding member of SmartVault, Michael is responsible for the design and delivery of SmartVault’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, managing the R&D group, and ensuring the overall security of SmartVault’s platform. Michael has more than a decade of experience in the commercial software industry and has emerged as a leading expert in the area of data security. Email Michael.