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What is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA)?

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Businesses, even us as individuals, have a strong reliance on telecommunication in order to navigate our everyday lives. Even so, there remains an ever-present fear of wiretapping - the electronic monitoring of telephone, telegraph, cellular, fax, or Internet-based communications – that stems from people being afraid that their messages and calls are being secretly recorded and stored without their permission.

     Within the legal realm, there is an existing argument that new technologies are not covered by the law is often used to justify increased monitoring of private citizens. As a result, I feel it is important to make known The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

     The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) protects wire, oral, and electronic communications while those communications are being made, are in transit, and when they are stored on computers. The Act applies to email, telephone conversations, and data stored electronically. The Act reflects a general approach of providing greater privacy protection for materials in which there are greater privacy interests.

     Within the Act, there are 3 titles:

  • Title I of the ECPA, which is often referred to as the Wiretap Act, prohibits the intentional actual or attempted interception, use, disclosure, or "procure[ment] [of] any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication."  Title I also prohibits the use of illegally obtained communications as evidence. 18 U.S.C. § 2515..
  • Title II of the ECPA, which is called the Stored Communications Act (SCA), protects the privacy of the contents of files stored by service providers and of records held about the subscriber by service providers, such as subscriber name, billing records, or IP addresses. 18 U.S.C. §§ 2701-12.
  • Title III of the ECPA, which addresses pen register and trap and trace devices, requires government entities to obtain a court order authorizing the installation and use of a pen register (a device that captures the dialed numbers and related information to which outgoing calls or communications are made by the subject) and/or a trap and trace (a device that captures the numbers and related information from which incoming calls and communications coming to the subject have originated).  18 U.S.C. §§ 3121 – 3127. No actual communications are intercepted by a pen register or trap and trace.  The authorization order can be issued on the basis of certification by the applicant that the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the applicant’s agency.

     Privacy – it’s something we are all concerned about. Call our offices today and let us help you keep your business privately secured and protected!

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