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The Web Is Worldwide — Shouldn’t Privacy Protections Be Global as Well?

Earlier today I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about a critical issue that affects anyone who has ever sent an email. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), designed to prevent unauthorized government access to private electronic communications, is sorely in need of an update.

We are generating an enormous amount of data every day — just think: over 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the past two years — but the policy environment tied to data services has not kept pace with this technological progress. The protections for our 21st-century world of software and data services are still mired in outdated 20th-century law.

ECPA was enacted in 1986; surely our technology laws should be more current than what was enacted during the year of the Iran-Contra Affair. Because of this gap, consumers, businesses and law enforcement all lack sufficient clarity and predictability about the regulations and laws that govern the gathering, storing, sharing, and beneficial use of data.

On behalf of members of BSA | The Software Alliance and the software industry as a whole, I urged Congress this morning to support efforts to update ECPA by: 1) protecting email communications from government intrusion without a warrant; and 2) providing clarity to technology companies on their legal obligations to law enforcement, so that providers can be transparent about how they treat customers’ information. This is not just a domestic concern. I also asked Congress to address emerging issues, specifically those related to demands for data held in one country by law enforcement agencies of another country. Just as US police can’t simply fly to another country and knock down a suspect’s door to raid their home, their jurisdiction online must be respectful of borders as well. Barging into a foreign data center would be a major invasion of that country’s sovereignty. Imagine the uproar if foreign police tried to a similar move in the United States.

It’s encouraging to see movement on this important issue by way of much-needed conversations taking place, and I’m honored to be a part of the discussion. You can read my full testimony here.

Victoria Espinel

Author:

Victoria Espinel is a respected authority on the intersection of technology innovation, global markets and public policy. She leads strategic efforts that help shape the technology landscape in 60 countries through work in BSA’s 10 global offices.

Espinel also serves as the President of Software.org: the BSA Foundation. Software.org is an independent and nonpartisan international research organization created to help policymakers and the broader public better understand the impact that software has on our lives, our economy, and our society.

Espinel served for a decade in the White House, for both Republican and Democratic Administrations as President Obama’s advisor on intellectual property and, before that, as the first ever chief US trade negotiator for intellectual property and innovation at USTR. She was also a professor of international trade and intellectual property at the George Mason School of Law.

Espinel is a founding and ongoing co-sponsor of Girls Who Code’s Washington, DC, summer immersion program, which empowers young women to pursue careers in STEM fields. She speaks before audiences around the world to build visibility for the amazing things people can do with software, and encourages businesses, governments, and the public to support a policy environment that will enable even more software breakthroughs.

Espinel chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Digital Economy and Society. She was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN), the principal advisory group for the US government on international trade. She holds an LLM from the London School of Economics, a JD from Georgetown University Law School, and a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriaespinel.

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