Legal Intro and Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Legal intro #

Course assignments: Short responses #

  • Assigned Wednesday lecture; due 11:59pm following Tuesday
  • Max 400 words
  • Discussion with other students allowed but need to submit alone
  • Grading: “needs improvement,” “meets expectations,” “exceeds expectation”

Cyber issue forces at play #

Pathetic Dot theory: Market, Law, Norms, Architecture

Industry standards, compliance bodies, self-regulatory schemes

  • ISO27001 - infosec management standards; can become legal req by law or contract
  • PCI DSS - anti CC fraud
  • Digital Advertising Alliance - ad industry self-reg body

Tech companies enforcing standards + policing behavior

  • Apple, google app stores - rules and review processes; keep out malware/spyware
  • Cloudflare - stopped providing DDoS protection for hate speech


  • Cyber risk insurance - induce improvements in cybersec
  • Forces are entwined with the law but not separate
    • Legal regulations for insurance, app store antitrust issues
    • Laws still necessary because self-regulation is lax

Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) #

4th amendment #

Government cannot engage in unreasonable search and seizures

  • SCOTUS: 4A protects conversations from warrantless surveillance
    • In-person conversations: Berger v. New York, 388 U.S. 41 (1967)
    • Phone calls: Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967)
  • 4A does not protect phone numbers held by third parties
    • Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979) - police can record outgoing numbers dialed from a phone
  • 4A doesn’t protect info disclosed to third parties (business records)
    • United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976) - seizing bank records with grand jury subpoenas is constitutional

Congress’s response #

  • Original federal Wiretap Act (1968) passed after Berger and Katz
  • In 1986, Congress passed ECPA
    • Amended Wiretap Act to include transmission of electronic data via computers
    • Added Stored Communications Act
    • Added Pen Register Statute - applies to transactional info about wire, electronic communications

ECPA definitions #

  • Electronic communication: email, text, non-voice internet transmissions, faxes, but not beepers, tracking devices, pr EFT info (electronic monetary transfer between financial accounts)
    • How does this apply to VoIP or Zoom calls? Unclear!
  • Contents: “substance, purport, or meaning” of the communication
    • ex. subject line + body of an email (or contents of a snail-mail letter)
  • Non-content information: information about the communication
    • Metadata
    • Email header, web request header, etc
  • Note: in the context of the internet, this distinction is unclear

ECPA and Wiretap Act #

  • Prohibit interception of contents of wire/oral/electronic communications except as authorized
  • However - Not unlawful if you’re “a party to the communications” or “one party has given prior consent to interception”
  • One-party vs all-party consent: Wiretap Act - one party; whereas California, Massachusetts, etc - all-party
    • If interception isn’t a federal violation, it might still be a state violation
  • Wiretap orders to law enforcement aka “super warrant” or “Title III orders”
  • Limited suppression remedy if evidence is gathered in violation of the law
    • Evidence must be thrown out in court
    • Only applies to oral and wire communications but not electronic text communications

Pen Register Statute #

  • Prohibits interception of non-content parts of electronic communications except as authorized
    • Govt’s application must certify that info “likely to be obtained” is relevant to “ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by that agency”
    • Court must issue the order if it finds the gov’t has certified this to the court
  • Regulates real-time collection of communication’s non-content info
    • Dialing, routing, addressing, and signaling (D/R/A/S) info
      • this gets a communication from point A to point B - incoming/outgoing phone numbers, email to/from addresses, IP addresses
      • URL can be DRAS or DRAS and content (i.e., search query in URL string)
    • Govt can only collect DRAS info and not contents
  • Technical assistance provisions

Stored communications act #

  • Regulates access to, and disclosure (both voluntary and compelled) of, stored communications, records, and subscriber info held by third-party service providers (ISPs, email, social media, cloud, etc)
  • “Electronic communications service” (ECS) vs “remote computing service” (RCS) providers:
    • ECS: “any service which provides to users thereof the ability to send and receive wire or electronic communications”
    • RCS: “the provision to the public of computer storage or processing services by means of an electronic communications system”
  • Different rules apply depending on whether ECS or RCS
  • Written before modern internet; courts recognize that nowadays, most modern tech platforms act as both
    • Theofel vs. Farey-Jones, 359 F.3D 1066 (9th Cir, 2004) effectively collapsed ECS/RCS destinction
    • Courts still examine which feature of service is at issue (what “hat” is the provider wearing)