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My view: U.S. communications privacy act is outdated, needs an upgrade

By Jeff Hunsaker

Published: Sunday, May 5 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

This 2006 file photo shows the United States Capitol, center, the Capitol Reflecting Pool, foreground, the U.S. Supreme Court, back left of Capitol, the Library of Congress Jefferson Building, back right of the Capitol and the RFK Stadium, center background, in Washington.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

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The Internet is an engine for innovation and economic growth across the globe that has revolutionized the way we communicate with one another and streamlined the process by which we exchange goods and services. In Utah, the Internet and the various industries that support and maintain it are having a direct, positive effect on our local economy.

International tech companies such as Adobe, Twitter, eBay, Oracle, CenturyLink and Microsoft have recognized the financial benefits of moving back-office functions to Utah: namely lower taxes, plentiful, reasonable priced real-estate, state tax incentives and a young, talented, well educated, cost-effective labor pool. Additionally, Utah is currently home to 18 state-of-the art data centers operating for both regional and national companies and home of several prominent web-hosting companies.

These companies and many others in our state's tech community employ over 76,000 Utahans with an average annual salary that is 62 percent higher than the statewide average non-agricultural wage.

Utah is on the cutting edge of technological innovation because of its robust and steady-growing information technology (IT) industry. In addition to being the nation's lead investor in technology, Utah also ranks first nationally in economic dynamism, online population and e-government. Our universities support Utah's economy by providing our workforce with top-notch educational degrees in technology.

It is clear that the IT industry will play an important role in our state's economy. It remains to be seen, however, if lawmakers in Washington, D.C., will allow our industry to continue to do what it does best: innovate and provide world-class products and services to customers around the globe.

Unfortunately, as the Internet becomes a more central part of our lives, attempts to regulate it have often been ill conceived and harmful. Right now, outdated legislation crafted in Washington, D.C., threatens to suffocate this climate of innovation, jeopardizing local businesses and countless jobs in the process.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) should be of particular concern to not only the tech industry in Utah, but to all Americans. Technology has made significant advancements since ECPA was signed into law in 1986, and yet the act remains largely unchanged. As the law currently stands, authorities only need a subpoena, not a warrant, to look at private information stored in the cloud after the information has been accessible for 180 days. As such, the law in its current state fails to ensure that certain forms of modern communication, most notably emails, are granted the privacy protections guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. This is in no way a challenge to law enforcement, but an attempt to amend the ECPA such that it creates a win win for all logical parties.

Because it is muddled and inconsistent, the current ECPA law also threatens the enterprising nature of the Internet and the cloud computing industry, a business that generates $46 billion in annual direct and indirect revenue in the United States alone.

ECPA makes it difficult for WestHost, MidPhase, 100TB, VPS.net, Resell.biz and Virtual Internet, all of which are Utah-based hosting providers and part of UK2 Group — who has chosen Utah to be the headquarters of their U.S. operations — to comply with its requirements.

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary passed the ECPA Amendments Act of 2013, a bipartisan bill recently introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that will preserve the competitive advantage of companies like UK2 Group and its Utah based brands and uphold the constitutional rights of due process guaranteed to all Americans.

The bill will bring ECPA into the Internet age by requiring law enforcement to follow well-established judicial procedures to access consumer data. These consistencies would strengthen American economic competitiveness by removing a key objection many non-U.S. companies have to entrusting that data to domestic infrastructure providers. These common sense reforms will also protect privacy while still providing law enforcement agencies with the tools necessary to do their jobs effectively. UK2 Group strongly supports the ECPA Amendments Act proposed by Sen. Lee and Sen. Leahy and urges the Senate to pass the bill.

Jeff Hunsaker has been in technology for more than 20 years in the State of Utah, having worked for various Utah based companies such as WordPerfect and Novell and is currently the U.S. president and chief services officer for UK2 Group, a domain name and web hosting company serving hundreds of thousands of clients throughout the world.

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