Reasonable Expectations of Privacy Settings: Social Media and the Stored Communications Act
31 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2013 Last revised: 29 Jan 2015
Date Written: January 8, 2015
In 1986, Congress passed the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) to provide additional protections for individuals’ private communications content held in electronic storage by third parties. Acting out of direct concern for the implications of the Third-Party Records Doctrine — a judicially created doctrine that generally eliminates Fourth Amendment protections for information entrusted to third parties — Congress sought to tailor the SCA to electronic communications sent via and stored by third parties. Yet, because Congress crafted the SCA with language specific to the technology of 1986, courts today have struggled to apply the SCA consistently with regard to similar private content sent using different technologies.
This Article argues that Congress should revisit the SCA and adopt a single, technology-neutral standard of protection for private communications content held by third-party service providers. Furthermore, it suggests that Congress specifically intended to limit the scope of the Third-Party Records Doctrine by creating greater protections via the SCA, and thus courts interpreting existing law should afford protection to new technologies such as social media communications consistent with that intent based on individuals’ expressed privacy preferences.
Keywords: SCA, Stored Communications Act, privacy, Fourth Amendment, surveillance
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