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ATR president Grover Norquist Appears on NBC's "Meet the Press" (and more...)

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Posted by Zoe Crain on Monday, September 22nd, 2014, 4:14 PM PERMALINK


Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” hosted by Chuck Todd to discuss the successes of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s tax cuts. An excerpt of his remarks is below:

“If you want your taxes higher, vote for a Democrat governor. If you want your taxes lowered, vote for a Republican governor. Right now, it’s overwhelmingly Republican governors in the country, and the people who are losing are guys like in Illinois, a Democrat who’s raised taxes too much in the state.”

Mike Lillis of The Hill wrote an article following Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist’s appearance on “Meet the Press.”

“They’ve had 57,000 jobs in the private sector created in Kansas; they’ve actually been spending more money, each year in the state, on education than in the past,” he said.

“The reason why the entire left in the country has jumped on top of Kansas is they have provided a model, a successful model, that will phase out the income tax,” Norquist added.

Newsmax’s Greg Richter covered the debate between Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist and liberal author Thomas Frank this weekend on “Meet the Press.”

Norquist pointed out that there are 30 states with GOP governors who have cut taxes more than $30 billion over the past four years. The 20 states with Democratic governors have raised taxes $40 billion.

Those losing, Norquist said, are Democrats such as Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and even one Republican, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett

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Gage Skidmore

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ECPA Reform Bill Affirms Americans' 4th Amendment Rights Online

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Posted by Matthew Bruno on Thursday, September 18th, 2014, 11:08 AM PERMALINK


In the spirit of Constitution Day, tech leaders and protectors of Internet privacy released an advertisement urging reform of the outdated Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA). The bipartisan Leahy-Lee (S. 607) and Yoder-Polis (H.R. 1852) bills seek to update ECPA by making it clear that the warrant standard of the U.S. Constitution applies to private digital information just as it applies to physical property. These bills have support on both sides of the aisle, as well as from consumers and businesses large and small. Although civil regulatory agencies resist reform, revising ECPA would encourage continued innovation while preserving security, privacy, and the enforcement of justice on the Internet. With approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and over 260 House co-sponsors, ECPA reform is a straightforward issue that concerns Americans who value their digital privacy.

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Jonathan Thorne

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Wisconsin Democrats Don't Know Much about Taxes

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Posted by Will Upton on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014, 3:18 PM PERMALINK


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has come under fire from his Democrat challenger Mary Burke and the Wisconsin Democrat Party for rolling back the Wisconsin Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Despite passing historic tax cuts, Walker’s Democrat opponents insist that he has raised taxes on Wisconsin’s middle class. It appears that Democrat Mary Burke and her allies need to brush up on their tax policy, because they are flat out wrong. 

The thrust of the Wisconsin Democrat attack on Gov. Walker is that he cut the Wisconsin EITC while in 1986 President Ronald Reagan expanded the Federal EITC. Thus Gov. Walker raised taxes while President Reagan cut them. Unfortunately for Mary Burke and the Wisconsin Democrat Party, there is little truth in their attacks.

Here are the facts: In both instances, the EITC is refundable, meaning that even if a taxpayer is able to zero-out their personal income tax liability, they can still claim the credit and receive money from the state. Simply put, the EITC allows for the government to use the tax code to spend money. The U.S. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation scores all refundable tax credits as spending, not as tax cuts. Democrat candidate Mary Burke, in an ad attacking Gov. Walker, praised President Reagan for expanding the EITC, saying he had a “good idea about taxes.” Burke shows a complete lack of understanding of what the EITC is by tying it to taxes. Again, Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation scores the EITC as spending. The Wisconsin Democrat Party takes a similar line as Burke, again showing a complete lack of knowledge regarding the EITC and what it is actually scored as. Gov. Walker did not raise taxes on Wisconsin's middle class, nor was President Ronald Reagan's expansion of the EITC a tax cut for the middle class. The EITC is scored as spending, not a tax cut or a tax increase.

In reality, Gov. Walker – by rolling back the Wisconsin EITC – cut state spending reducing the state’s reliance on taxpayers. Since taking office in 2010, Gov. Walker has enacted over $2 billion in tax relief, while creating a more efficient and effective state government that is not burdensome to taxpayers or a hindrance to economic growth.

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WisPolitics.com

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ATR and COGC Support House's IRS Accountability Package


Posted by Margaret Mire on Tuesday, September 16th, 2014, 4:19 PM PERMALINK


The House of Representatives is poised to consider several bills that would increase accountability of the IRS and strengthen agency oversight.  ATR and the Cost of Government Center support these reforms, and encourage members to vote in favor of passage.

H.R. 5420 would amend the Internal Revenue Code to permit the release of information regarding the status of certain investigations.  Currently, victimized taxpayers whose confidential information has been inappropriately made public by the IRS are not required to be notified.  H.R. 5420 would restore victims' rights by ensuring taxpayers would not only be made aware of what confidential information has been leaked, but would also be apprised of the progress of the investigations involving their personal information.

H.R. 5418 would prohibit IRS officers and employees from using their personal email accounts to conduct official business.  Investigation into the targeting of individuals by the IRS has found that employees have been exposing confidential taxpayer information by conducting business using their personal email accounts.  H.R. 5418 would prohibit this risky behavior, and increase both taxpayer information security by also requiring a full record of business activity conducted.

H.R. 5419 would amend the Internal Revenue Code by providing the right to an administrative appeal relating to rejection of tax-exempt status.  Current practices do not allow groups that have been denied a tax-exempt status by the IRS to seek an appeal.  H.R. 5419 would rein in the ability of faceless bureaucrats to dictate the First Amendment rights of private citizens and allow groups the right to appeal these decisions.

H.R. 5169, The SES Accountability Act, would require senior officials to face the same disciplinary protocol as those they supervise.  Probationary periods would be lengthened and expeditious termination would be required of Senior Executive Service (SES) members who underperform and partake in misconduct.  Additionally, paid administrative leave for employees on notice of termination would no longer be described as a paid vacation.  Upon termination, SES members would be required to repay the government for paid administrative leave that was accumulated while on termination notice.  This would prevent higher-ranking officials from defending against abuse in their departments by claiming ignorance of subordinates’ activities.

H.R. 5170, The Federal Records Accountability Act, would create a process for removal of employees who intentionally destroy federal records.  H.R. 5170 would prevent the utilization of non-official messaging and email accounts to conduct official business unless messages are forwarded immediately to official business accounts.  This bill would require federal agencies to automatically capture both emails and instant messages, and to preserve all electronic records in an electronic format.  Finally, agencies would be required to disclose the loss of any federal records in agency custody on their public websites.

Americans for Tax Reform and the Cost of Government Center support these efforts to rein in abusive action by the IRS and increase accountability in federal agencies.  We encourage members to vote in support of these bills.

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Thanks to Mark Warner, Another 250,000 Virginians Lose the Health Care They Liked

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Posted by Paul Blair on Friday, September 12th, 2014, 2:01 PM PERMALINK


If you thought you escaped Obamacare’s hammer on your health care plan, you might be wrong in Virginia. Another quarter of a million residents will have their private health insurance plans cancelled this fall, forcing them to find new plans, which may be more expensive. This is on top of the already 850,000 Virginians who received cancellation notices over the past year. 

Lawmakers asked the Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans if these new plans would have higher co-pays. His response? “Absolutely.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for Democrat Senator Mark Warner, who is running for re-election this year against Republican Ed Gillespie. Not only did Mark Warner vote for Obamacare, he echoed the 2013 “Lie of the Year.”

In 2009, Mark Warner had this to say about health care reform:

“Let me be clear. I’m not going to support a health care reform plan that’s gonna take away health care that you’ve got right now OR a health care plan that you like.”

Unfortunately, because of Mark Warner’s vote for Obamacare, if you like your health care plan, you may be one of the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who can’t keep it.

These plans have been cancelled because private health insurers are not allowed to offer plans that don’t meet the requirements of the federal health care law. Some of those requirements for every person’s health insurance plan now include:

  • Maternity and newborn care, regardless of age and gender
  • Diet and obesity screening and counseling 
  • Contraception and vasectomies

 

A spokesman for Ed Gillespie responded, “Because Mark Warner worked to pass Obamacare, 250,000 Virginians are losing the health insurance they liked, with thousands getting hit with huge out of pocket cost increases while unable to see the doctors they trust." He’s absolutely right.

Imagine if 15,000 of those people (or their family members) were planning on voting for Mark Warner this fall, just as they receive a cancellation notice in the mail notifying them that Mark Warner’s vote for Obamacare cost them the insurance they like. This could be a game-changer in the Virginia US Senate race.

 

Photo Credit: 
Office of Senator Mark Warner

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Jerry Brown: It's Your Baby, Take Care of It!

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Posted by Center for Worker Freedom on Friday, September 12th, 2014, 11:22 AM PERMALINK


Today the Center for Worker Freedom (CWF) launched the second round in a series of billboards in Sacramento designed to bring attention to the plight of Fresno farm workers who are being forced into a union against their will.

Workers at Fresno-based Gerawan Farming voted last November in a decertification election to rid their workplace of the United Farm Workers (UFW).  Union bosses at the UFW are trying to take three percent of the workers’ hard-earned pay, despite the fact that the union has negotiated no wages or working conditions for the workers in over twenty years.

But the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is refusing to count the votes from last fall’s decertification election in an outrageous violation of the Gerawan workers’ constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly.

Writing for the LA Register, CWF Executive Director Matt Patterson notes:

"The union can’t win an election fair and square, so it’s using its lackeys in government to do its dirty work, forcing workers to join their gang and pay tribute money against their will.

The sad thing: Many of these workers came to this country to escape that kind of oppression."

The CWF digital boards are located on the West side of I-5, just South of Richards Blvd (facing South) and on US 50 half a mile West of Howe Ave (facing East) in Sacramento. They will rotate a variety of messages through September designed to alert Governor Jerry Brown to the plight of the Gerawan workers, while urging him to help them get their votes counted.

The first message shows a picture of an infant and reads "Dear Governor Brown, Take Responsibility for Your Baby.  Make the ALRB Count the Votes at Gerawan.”  California Governor Jerry Brown created the ALRB during his previous term as Governor back in the 1970's. 

The second shows a picture of an ankle chained to a  weight labeled "UFW' and reads "Freedom of Assembly Includes Fresno Farm Workers."

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Kernighan

Things change when the shoe is on the other foot. Or maybe it just highlights a fundamental intrinsic hypocrisy.


Grover Norquist Urges IRS to Stop Political Harassment of Breitbart News

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Posted on Friday, September 12th, 2014, 5:00 AM PERMALINK


Today, ATR president Grover Norquist sent the following letter to IRS commissioner John Koskinen regarding the revelation of the IRS’ decision to subject Breitbart News Network to a field audit. As news continues to come out about the IRS’ harassment of conservative and tea party groups, it defies logic that this IRS audit was begun with anything but the worst of intentions.

The content of this letter to Commissioner Koskinen can be found below:

Dear Commissioner Koskinen:

It has come to my attention this week that the Internal Revenue Service is subjecting Breitbart News Network, LLC to a tax audit.  This is deeply disturbing to me for several reasons.

First, I served as a member of the National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service.  We saw at the time an agency that was out of control.  Our report helped lead to the first “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” in the late 1990s.  Unfortunately, history has shown that the problems we saw then have only gotten worse over time.  This political targeting of Breitbart is further evidence of this.

Second, the IRS continues to be enmeshed in the conservative non-profit group harassment scandal personified by your former employee, Lois Lerner.  With every Friday news dump, more evidence comes to light that the IRS has not only acted in a highly political manner, but has sought to cover up its behavior. An agency which has been so badly damaged by self-inflicted political wounds is now auditing a news organization dedicated to covering that same political scandal.  One might be led to believe this audit is not justified except for political ends, and that can only cause the public to lose trust and esteem for the service.

Third, I would echo the questions raised to you by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) earlier this week.  For your benefit, I repeat those questions below:

1) How many other news organizations have been audited since President Obama has been in office?

2) How many of them could be identified as conservative- or liberal-leaning?

3) Have any other news organizations been subjected to this sort of far-reaching and oppressive inquiry, including requesting the personal tax records of editors and reporters?

4) At what point does the IRS decide to take action to audit a news outlet?

5) Does the IRS worry that its extremely burdensome auditing process could effectively silence the press?

6) Previously, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote the IRS asking that it examine the tax-exempt status of Crossroads GPS, a Republican organization that spends money electing Republicans.  Did the IRS ever receive any communications from any elected official asking it to examine Breitbart News Network, LLC?

7) Who, precisely, is responsible for making the decision to audit Breitbart News Network, LLC?

To these I would merely add that an audit here looks awfully convenient given the facts and circumstances.  According to your own IRS records, less than 1 percent of all tax returns (including business returns) faced examination last year.  Even here, two-thirds of these audits were of the relatively benign correspondence variety, unlike the field audit which Breitbart is subjected to.

It defies reason to think that an agency as politicized as the IRS began this inquiry with anything other than the worst of intentions.  I urge you to stop the political harassment of President Obama’s enemies using the IRS as soon as possible.

Click here for a pdf version of the letter.

Photo Credit: 
Gage Skidmore

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binky354

Hope Norquist is effective.

KarmaKiller

Awesome


The Conservative Argument for a Permanent Medicare Doc Fix

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Thursday, September 11th, 2014, 12:38 PM PERMALINK


Whether it's in the lame duck after Election Day or early next year, Congress is once again going to have to address the so-called "doc fix" or "SGR" issue within Medicare.  It's going to be a top fiscal and healthcare issue, so it's worth exploring in some depth.

What is this issue?  Back in 1997, Congress adopted a Medicare cost savings formula called the "sustainable growth rate," or SGR.  The idea was for Medicare reimbursements to no longer outpace the growth of the economy.  SGR, though, was never put in place in any meaningful way.

After a one year stint living under SGR, in 2003 Congress decided to "temporarily" delay the provider cuts.  This would be the first of 17 times Congress did so, most recently in March 2014.  The total amount of "extra" Medicare spending as a result of these "patches" (popularly known as "doc fixes") is just under $170 billion.

It's pretty clear that when Congress delays something from happening 17 times that it's not going to happen.

What's the conservative argument for keeping SGR?  It comes down to a budgetary one. Every time Congress does a doc fix patch, it's scored as spending new money.  This despite the fact that all Congress did was preserve the old funding formula and stop a new (and never-used) one from coming into place.

What that means is that it appears that simply removing the never-gonna-happen SGR from the books increases government spending.  According to the latest CBO estimate, a permanent doc fix (i.e., repeal of SGR) would "cost" $131 billion over the next ten years.  Conservatives are against increasing the size of government, so opposition to SGR repeal is a natural instinct.

However, this instinct is incorrect for five key reasons:

1. The idea that repealing SGR increases government spending is derived from a faulty baseline assumption.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has to assume by law that SGR will be applied in full force, permanently, going forward.  Common sense and history tells us this is a bad assumption from which to make budget policy.

Congress has delayed the onset of SGR 17 times over more than a decade.  It is blindingly obvious to everyone who pays attention to this in Washington that Congress will continue to not impose SGR cuts.  To pretend that it will, and then demand spending cuts to "pay for" repealing it, is cognitive dissonance of the highest order.  It is reminiscent of Democrat calls to "pay for" extension of the Bush tax cuts, even though all that Congress was doing was keeping tax law current.

Under a reality-based baseline, or what CBO might call an alternative fiscal scenario closer to reality, the actual score of repealing SGR should be $0.  That's because SGR has never really been put in place, Congress has delayed it consistently, and it never will be put in place again. So getting rid of it is simply not a budgetary event.  In fact, we know that roughly a decade of patches have "cost" more than simply repealing it is projected to cost now.  The question is merely whether you want to do this once a year, or do it once and for all.

Of course, if Congress wants to cut spending to feel better about an SGR repeal, that's a welcome development--spending cuts are always a good thing for conservatives.  But strictly speaking, and using a correct baseline, they are not necessary in this case.

2. Medicare's own actuaries think SGR is phony and hides the true unfunded liability of Medicare.  SGR is an assumed cut to Medicare spending which will actually never happen.  But just like CBO needs to assume it will, so did the Medicare actuaries--until this year.

For the first time ever, the Medicare actuaries admitted that SGR was a sham, and that giving credit to its phony cuts does a disservice to the public.  Including SGR cuts in long-range Medicare spending is to make long-range Medicare spending look pretty good by comparison. Here's what the actuaries had to say:

In addition, a further exception to current law is being made this year with regard to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for physician fee schedule payment under Part B. Current law requires CMS to implement a reduction in Medicare payment rates for physician services of almost 21 percent in April 2015. However, it is a virtual certainty that lawmakers will override this reduction as they have every year beginning with 2003. For this reason, the income, expenditures, and assets for Part B shown throughout the report reflect a projected baseline, which includes an override of the provisions of the SGR and an assumed annual increase in the physician fee schedule equal to the average SGR override over the 10-year period ending with March 31, 2015. Since 2008, legislation overriding physician fee reductions has included provisions offsetting the 10-year cost of the overrides, but the division of those offsetsbetween Medicare savings and savings in other parts of the budget has varied. Because it is difficult to predict the extent to which policy makers will finance future overrides with other Medicare savings, the projected Medicare baseline does not include any offsets, which may result in overstating program costs.

If the top Medicare experts, whose job it is to accurately portray the health of the program, are willing to completely discount and ignore SGR, it's not worth the paper it's printed on and should be scrapped.

In addition to this, the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) has announced that it is ignoring looming SGR cuts when setting Medicare Advantage rates (the freer-market alternative to traditional Medicare).

In both these cases, the people who pay the closest attention to Medicare recognized the history of Congressional action to defer cuts, as well as the disruption it causes if one set policy based on formula, and then adjusted suddenly when Congress overrides that formula.

3. SGR smooths the path for bad policy outcomes, including and especially Obamacare.  SGR is one of many elements that conservatives can blame for saddling the country with the broken government healthcare regime we have today.

First, the existence of SGR made the solvency and sustainability of Medicare look stronger than it actually was.  That allowed for the Obama Administration and allies on Capitol Hill to justify the creation of Obamacare (paid for in large part by Medicare cuts, incidentally) because of this rosy long-term cost scenario for government in general.  The trillions of dollars in higher Medicare spending over this century than was assumed by policymakers might have given pause to a stray congressman here or senator there.

Second, SGR has historically been a magnet for other healthcare spending, known as healthcare "extenders." No one ever bothers to scrutinize these extenders, and it's likely they've cost more than the sum total of "doc fix" patches to date.  The Wall Street Journal calls one such extender "payola" included at the request of liberal Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

4. SGR and the resulting "doc fixes" get in the way of conservative health reforms on Capitol Hill.  It bears repeating that Congress has delayed the onset of SGR 17 times in 11 years. Every time they do so, it's a Chinese firedrill​ of the highest order.

The healthcare staff of many members and committees have to be deployed for drafting, scoring, hearings, interminable meetings and conference calls, etc.  It's a "timesuck" of epic proportions for these staffers and members.

That would be all well and good except that these are the very same conservative staffers and members who free market health reformers are counting on to do proactive improvements/repeal of Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans' Administration, etc. There's only so much time on the Congressional calendar.  By necessity, Congress doesn't get to to work on these reforms because their key personnel are busy rolling the doc fix rock up the hill for the eighteenth or nineteenth time.

If you're a conservative interested in repealing Obamacare, reforming Medicare, or block granting Medicaid to the states, removing the SGR kabuki theater from the Congressional agenda is absolutely essential.  Put bluntly, we will never, ever get to do all the cool entitlement reforms we want to do if "doc fix" is on the Congressional agenda ahead of them every year.  Clear it out.

5. SGR and annual doc fixes give occasion to campaign finance shakedown operations. Another widely known fact in Washington is that Congress loves doing the annual doc fix because it gives their fundraisers an opportunity to hit up doctors and others for campaign cash.  If SGR went away as a threat, so goes the theory, the potential SGR victims might be less willing to write checks.  It doesn't take much of a Google search to see that the impeding threat of SGR is very good for fundraiser commissions.

Conservatives should be repulsed by this effect.  It's part of the corrupt, crony capitalist shell game in Washington, and it needs to stop.  Congress sets up a fake crisis which everyone knows won't happen.  

"Except, it might, Mr. Lobbyist, this year," says the senator.  "Totally different subject, Mr. Lobbyist--did you know about my cocktail reception at Johnnie's Half Shell tonight?  You'll be there?  Great, I look forward to seeing you.  Let's see what we can do about this doc fix nonsense, huh?"

On and on it goes.  A small part of draining the swamp in the Beltway is getting rid of the phony SGR threat.  Don't forget that SGR provides a vehicle for all sorts of other bad policies to become law.

There are conservatives of good will on both sides of this issue.  Some of the smartest healthcare and fiscal minds in the conservative movement think that keeping SGR, or having to cut spending dollar for dollar to repeal it, is a no-brainer.  Their arguments are serious and substantive.

But there's another side to the coin, and that's what's been presented here.  There's a good conservative case to be made that SGR needs to go, and as soon as possible.

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Keeping the Internet Free

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Posted by Matthew Bruno on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014, 4:49 PM PERMALINK


Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) has crafted the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (MITFA) in hopes of forcing the controversial Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) through Congress by holding hostage the widely agreed upon Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA). Supporters of Internet freedom, including Americans for Tax Reform and Digital Liberty, have sent a letter to Congress reiterating the problems with MFA and urging them to keep ITFA and MFA separate during consideration of these two consequential issues.

Internet usage taxes, prohibited by ITFA, and an Internet sales tax, promoted by MFA, are different issues that must be addressed one a time. Permanent extension of ITFA has the support of the American people and should be passed before November elections. Action regarding an Internet sales tax, an issue drawing more debate, should not hold ITFA hostage. Refraining from combining these topics will ensure the continued convenience, effectiveness, and ingenuity that have made the Internet a central driver of both our lives and our economy.

Congressmen on both sides of the aisle agree that an Internet tax is a restrictive measure that will inhibit a free market and the innovation that the Internet provides. Originally passed in 1998 and thrice extended since, ITFA has allowed the Internet to grow and prosper. Further proliferation of the Internet can be encouraged by extending ITFA permanently. The Internet was created as a means of free communication and exchange of ideas, goods, and services. Regulating Internet use through a tax will impede the continued development of such expression and improvement. If previous regulation of industry (water, electricity) tells us anything, we know that government intervention does more harm than good. Clearly ITFA should be extended permanently.

While the continuance of ITFA is a clear-cut essential, the issue of sales tax concerning out-of-state sales over the Internet is a different and far more hotly debated issue. MFA (S. 743) passed the Senate in May 2013 but has been held up in the House due to concerns over tax hikes and the sovereignty of states. MFA seeks to give states cross-border tax authority for businesses located outside their jurisdiction, effectively letting each individual state impose their tax ideology on any of the other 49. Previously, states have been protected from the whims of out-of-state tax collectors through the “physical presence standard.” This standard controls the regulatory power of each state by not allowing it to spread beyond its borders. The MFA would ultimately increase interstate tax complexity by forcing companies to reconsider the tax regulation that would stem from doing business in 50 different states.

These are undoubtedly two separate subjects. The permanent extension of ITFA has a large following, while MFA has two divided sides. In order to tip the scales on the MFA question, Senator Enzi and his co-sponsors have added ITFA to the equation in order to produce MITFA, a convoluted amalgamation of two separate issues. MITFA would only extend ITFA ten years, at which point its lengthening would once again be used as a political bargaining chip. Senator Enzi and his supporters seek to raise taxes through MFA by combining it with ITFA, an issue of monumental importance. Defenders of Internet freedom need to hold strong and demand that these issues be faced apart from each other.

Americans for Tax Reform and Digital Liberty urge Senators and Representatives to pass a clean permanent extension of the Internet tax moratorium before November 1st.

Photo Credit: 
Blaise Alleyne

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Growing Support in Congress to Protect Online Privacy

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Posted by Matthew Bruno on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014, 9:00 AM PERMALINK


On Wednesday, September 10th, prominent U.S. businesses and defenders of American privacy sent letters to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) urging reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA, an issue that is gaining support on both sides of the aisle. Americans for Tax Reform and Digital Liberty support quick passage of the ECPA.

Congressmen Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Jared Polis (D-CO) have introduced the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 1852) in order to reform the current ECPA. They are joined by over 260 Representatives, a majority of the majority, and a majority of the House Judiciary Committee in co-sponsoring this bill. Identical legislation (S. 607) in the Senate introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) shows that there is widespread bipartisan support for ECPA reform across the political spectrum.

Written in 1986, the outdated and out of touch ECPA does not make clear whether the warrant standard of the U.S. Constitution applies to private digital information the same way it applies to physical documents. This is a cause of concern for millions of Americans who value keeping their online information private.

Discrepancies in the current law treat data stored locally in one’s home or office differently than that stored in the Internet “cloud.” The ECPA in its current form states that data stored in the cloud should be afforded less protection than data stored locally. This is a worrisome inconsistency that has become a cause for alarm as more and more companies and individuals store their work and information in the cloud. Furthermore, it discourages companies that use and develop cloud technology, such as Apple and Facebook, from innovating and expanding their businesses.

H.R. 1825 and S. 607 seek to bolster online security by affording cloud data the same protection as data stored locally. This protects the privacy of law-abiding Americans, while still allowing the Department of Justice to execute legal warrants. Furthermore, ECPA reform would prevent the SEC from circumventing the legal process and gaining direct access to private content held by communications service providers, a civil infringement that would further intrude upon American privacy.

Support for this legislation abounds across the ideological spectrum as well as throughout tech and advocacy groups. The Yoder-Polis bill is co-sponsored by over 260 Representatives, a majority of the majority, and a majority of the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Goodlatte of the House Committee on the Judiciary has claimed that ECPA reform was one of his priorities. Yoder-Polis, as well as the bipartisan Leahy-Lee bill in the Senate, serves as a strong first step in securing and broadening American privacy and freedom.

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Jeffrey Zeldman

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