On Wednesday, April 6, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine ECPA, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.  The hearing, which focused on the federal government’s perspective on ECPA reform, followed up on a hearing held last September and Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) January 2011 pledge that “[t]he Judiciary Committee will continue the work we started last year to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, so that security agencies have the tools needed to keep us safe from cyber threats, and our Federal privacy laws keep pace with advancing technology.” 

Cameron Kerry, general counsel of the Commerce Department, offered general considerations for ECPA reform, suggesting that there should be a principled relationship between the legal protections for electronic information and comparable offline materials, and also that the protections should be connected to ordinary citizens’ reasonable privacy interests.  James Baker, associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department, flagged eight issues under ECPA that merit further examination.  He also testified that the Justice Department is working internally on specific language to support its proposals. 

Senator Leahy expressed an interest in seeing the administration’s recommendations, noting wryly, “Inertia sometimes gets the greatest bipartisan support on the Hill, but I’d like to see us move forward.”