01.31.2018Policy

Calling on Congress: Modernize the Stored Communications Act

By: Craig Silliman

Releasing our Ninth Transparency Report ahead of two landmark Supreme Court privacy cases. 

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Verizon is pleased to release our Transparency Report for the second half of 2017. This is our ninth Transparency Report. As in the past, this report describes the different types of demands we receive and the types of data that we disclose in response to those demands. The number of demands that we have received each year continues to be fairly stable since we released our first report.

As many of you know, this will be an interesting Supreme Court term for Verizon and our industry. In November, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Carpenter case, which asks the Court to determine whether the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to obtain cell site location data with a warrant based on probable cause, or if an order issued pursuant to a lesser showing is sufficient. (Verizon will be sponsoring a panel, which I will moderate, about this case on February 15). Next month, the Court will hear arguments in the Microsoft-Ireland case, in which the Court will consider whether U.S. law enforcement can use a U.S. warrant to obtain data stored by a U.S. company in a foreign country. Because these issues are important to Verizon, we have joined other leading companies in filing friend of the Court (amicus) briefs.

The law at issue – the Stored Communications Act– was written in 1986, before the Internet and cell phone era.

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Both cases ask the Court to apply old law to new technology. The law at issue – the Stored Communications Act – was written in 1986, before the Internet and cell phone era. The Court’s decisions may resolve the specific fact patterns before it, but many important questions and policy matters about applying the outdated law to new technologies will remain. Congress needs to address those issues. When the Stored Communications Act was written 32 years ago we did not entrust so many and varied types of sensitive data with scores of technology companies. And we did not contemplate that those companies would have reason to store so much of that data half-way around the world.

In short, Congress needs to modernize the Stored Communications Act. Bills have been introduced over the years, but without any results. Last year, the Senate introduced the ECPA Modernization Act of 2017 and the International Communications Privacy Act. The former tries to find the right balance between privacy and law enforcement for the data of today’s developing technologies. The latter tries to find the balance between law enforcement needs and the sovereignty of other nations when companies store that data overseas. Neither bill is perfect; with so many important interests at stake, perfection is likely impossible. But each bill would modernize an archaic statute, and each bill would give our customers and our industry sorely needed guidance in a world that has changed by leaps and bounds since 1986. We call on Congress to enact legislation to modernize the Stored Communications Act.

View Verizon’s latest Transparency Report.

For related media inquiries, please contact story.inquiry@one.verizon.com

About the author(s): 

Craig Silliman is Verizon’s General Counsel and Executive Vice President for Public Policy. He leads Verizon’s legal, regulatory, public policy, government affairs and security groups.