Telecom (and Privacy) Statutes Need Updating, and More from CRS

10.21.13 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The laws that govern and regulate the communications industry are substantially out of date and need to be revised, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

“The communications sector does not look at all as it did when the Telecommunications Act was passed in 1996. Most significantly, consumer behavior in 2013 bears little resemblance to that in 1996,” the report says.  See Updating the Statutory Framework for Communications for the Digital Age: Issues for Congress, September 30, 2013.

The new CRS report does not address communications privacy issues or surveillance-related concerns. However, the underlying statutes in these areas are no less obsolete and urgently in need of updating, almost everyone agrees.  Related hearings earlier this year in the House Judiciary Committee have recently been published.

“The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, or ECPA, is complicated, outdated, and largely unconstitutional,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chair of the Judiciary Committee, at the first hearing.  “The 1986 law governing the Internet is like having a national highway policy drafted in the 19th century.” See ECPA (Part I): Lawful Access to Stored Content, March 19, 2013,  and Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) (Part II): Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance, April 25, 2013.

Relatedly, a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice “takes a comprehensive look at the multiple ways U.S. intelligence agencies collect, share, and store data on average Americans.”  See “What the Government Does with Americans’ Data,” October 8, 2013.

Here are some other new reports from the Congressional Research Service:

FY2014 Appropriations: District of Columbia, October 15, 2013

FY2014 Appropriations Lapse and the Department of Homeland Security: Impact and Legislation, October 11, 2013

Oil and Chemical Spills: Federal Emergency Response Framework, October 10, 2013:

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated October 17, 2013