Amended Privacy Act Could Be a Boon to Consumer Trust

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A majority of House members now support amendments to ECPA that would limit government access to customer data.

Vote tally's right for ECPA reform.
Vote tally's right for ECPA reform.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) this week issued a statement heralding the news that, by its count, 218 members of the House of Representatives now support efforts to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) introduced by Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder. In a floor vote, that number would be enough to pass the amended act in the 435-member House.

Should that occur, the event would cross out No. 4 on DMA's list of five fundamental changes that need to be made in laws regulating free data exchange. Yoder's bill (H.R. 1852) would forbid marketers or other collectors of consumer data to share it with any governmental agency unless backed by a warrant. Government agencies receiving contents of customer communications would be required to notify that customer within three days of receiving the data. Law enforcement agencies would have 10 days. Under the current law, law enforcement can obtain customer data without a warrant 90 days after it is created. Government entities have open access to data after 180 days.

Making it harder for the government to get hold of customer data is an important building block for consumer trust in marketers, says Rachel Nyswander Thomas, executive director of the Data-Driven Marketing Institute founded last year by DMA. “If we're going to have consumer trust, we need to make sure we are doing due diligence for them,” Thomas says. “There are instances in which DMA feels we should have laws in place to protect consumers, and this is one of them.”

The DMA's other four “Fundamentals for the Future”:

  • Pass a national data security and breach notification law
  • Pre-empt state laws that endanger the value of data
  • Prohibit privacy class action suits and fund FTC enforcement
  • Preserve robust self-regulation for the data-driven marketing economy
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