Tech:NYC Releases Policy Brief on NY Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Julie Samuels, Executive Director

During the past few years, digital privacy and government access to private data have become increasingly important issues, across the country and here in New York.

While law enforcement officers in New York must obtain a warrant to search physical files, desktop computer hard drives, and postal mail, they currently do not need one when accessing private data stored in email, text messages, social media, or cloud storage. As a result, the government does not require a warrant or court order to access and search New Yorker’s private data. Service providers can simply hand it over upon request.

To address some of these concerns, both the New York Assembly and Senate have introduced nearly identical bills to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing someone’s private digital data. The working title for the legislation is the New York Electronic Communications Privacy Act (NY ECPA).

This is not a simple issue, but we’ve just released a new policy brief to help make sense of it at a high level. We believe many members of the NYC tech community would be positively affected by the proposed legislation in two significant ways. First, the legislation would create a higher legal standard for law enforcement to request access for private user data. Second, NY ECPA would substantially reduce the number of law enforcement requests for user data because, with the exception of emergency requests, every request would require a warrant.

As always, we will continue to keep an eye on the bills in both the Assembly and the Senate and update you accordingly.