LEADS Act would protect U.S. data stored internationally

Chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced bipartisan legislation on Thursday that will reform the existing Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

The Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (LEADS) Act states that the United States government cannot enforce the disclosure of data from U.S. providers stored internationally, if accessing that data would violate the laws of the country where it is stored or if the data is not associated with a U.S. citizen or company.

“This is a pro-business, pro-innovation bill that will protect American privacy in the Digital Age and promote trust in U.S. technologies worldwide,” Hatch explained. “While I agree in principle with the ECPA reform bills recently introduced in the House and Senate, neither establishes a framework for how the U.S. government can access data stored abroad. As Congress works to reform our domestic privacy laws, we must modernize the legal framework for government access to digital data stored around the world. This bill recognizes that these two issues are inextricably linked.”

Hatch was joined by fellow Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Dean Heller (R-NV) in introducing the legislation.

“Law enforcement agencies wishing to access Americans’ data in the cloud ought to get a warrant,” Coons said. “And just like warrants for physical evidence, warrants for content under ECPA shouldn’t authorize seizure of communications that are located in a foreign country. The government’s position that ECPA warrants do apply abroad puts U.S. cloud providers in the position of having to break the privacy laws of foreign countries in which they do business in order to comply with U.S. law. This not only hurts our businesses’ competitiveness and costs American jobs, but it also invites reciprocal treatment by our international trading partners.”

Without the passage of the legislation, people of other countries may be told not to use U.S. Internet services because American law enforcement has more access to data collection from those services even if the data is not stored in the U.S. 

“The world is becoming more dependent on broadband Internet by the minute,” Heller added. “As this technological necessity continues to expand its role in our society, it is imperative the guaranteed rights of law-abiding citizens are balanced against the ability for law enforcement to do its job. This bill moves us in the right direction, and I will continue to work with all stakeholders to improve the bill so the LEADS Act becomes law.”