LEADS Act Awaiting Action as Privacy Concerns Mount

Michi Iljazi

March 15, 2016

The intersection of issues can be found in places you never expect, but sometimes it is right there in plain sight. Privacy concerns have been gaining momentum over the last few years with major stories that have broken on government surveillance, data breaches, and terrorism. While disagreements on how to proceed on many of these issues become even more complicated as events take over the narrative, privacy remains a priority for all individuals and that privacy extends to taxpayers, consumers and businesses.

One thing that Washington can do to help alleviate the concerns that many have when it comes to their privacy is to pass the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act (LEADS Act).  The legislation was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Chris Coons (D-Conn.), and would provide better tools for the United States government to obtain needed information abroad in criminal pursuits, but at the same ensure privacy protections for Americans while respecting the laws of other countries.

The bill is a win for privacy rights and the evolution of the legislation from the time it was introduced is proof positive. LEADS was initially offered in September of 2014 by Sen. Hatch as an amendment to the update of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). ECPA reform aims to strengthen protections under the Fourth Amendment’s protection of unreasonable search and seizure to include data stored by third-party services, or “cloud storage” as most people know them today. As of today, LEADS enjoys bipartisan support from members of Congress as well as broad support in both the tech community and industry stakeholders. 

The coalition supporting LEADS is one that the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has been a part of going back to EPCA reform. Many organizations like TPA believe that LEADS will ensure privacy for individuals, while giving the government the necessary tools to do their job. The distrust for federal agencies is real and with stories of data breaches and abuses of power, those concerns are real too.

Key supporters for privacy protection have also come out in strong favor of LEADS due to the fact that it uses the law to help address the privacy abuses that many fear federal agencies could engage in considering the technology at their disposal. The emerging coalition of those who care about privacy rights that are supporting the LEADS Act was highlighted in a recent post on RedState.com that showed the issue of privacy is both a left and right issue:

Pew found that when it comes to government’s anti-terrorism efforts, 65% of Americans felt there were not adequate privacy protections on telephone and Internet data. This view was shared across all demographic groups and more acute opposition was found (74%) for those polled who were knowledgeable about the spying programs.  Conservatives have even stronger views on the issue.  A Pew study from 2014 found that 74% agreed with the statement that Americans should not have to give up privacy for safety and by a 54% to 42% conservatives opposed the NSA surveillance program.

The debate over privacy and communications continues, and right now there are real concerns over the data of individuals being put at risk. The government is also engaged in legal action that could threaten the privacy rights of consumers and businesses.  But as technology changes, there are certain goal posts that need to be reached in order for the right reforms to be achieved. 

The LEADS Act gives Congress an opportunity to give the government the tools they need to pursue bad actors that use technology as a tool for wrongdoing.  LEADS also ensures that the agencies using those very same tools do not abuse the privacy rights of Americans, which has been a legitimate concern after leaks of classified information showed that NSA surveillance had resulted in some privacy abuses. TPA will continue urging Congress to pass the LEADS Act because privacy is important to taxpayers, consumers, and businesses.