Dec 12, 2013 · 1 minute

A couple of days ago, it looked like Mark Stanley’s “We The People” petition asking for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act would fall well short of the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a White House response.

Despite a bipartisan “Day of Action” last week led by the Center for Democracy and Technology, where Stanley is campaign and communications strategist, the petition had only 60,000 signatures on it with just a couple of days remaining.

That total would have been fine pre-January this year, when the White House’s threshhold for an official response to We The People petitions was set at just 25,000 signatures. But after the White House was compelled to reply to a public call for the US to build a Death Star, it increased the requirement to 100,000 signatures. And so the CDT made a gargantuan final push for supporters over social media and email blasts.

It worked. Today, the petition crept past the milestone, which means The White House must now address its central concern, which is:

“We call on the Obama Administration to support ECPA reform and to reject any special rules that would force online service providers to disclose our email without a warrant.”

The petition was prompted by concerns about the over-reach of the NSA’s surveillance, but it’s not just about the NSA. The CDT says ECPA is an outdated law that allows hundreds of agencies – including the FBI, IRS, and the DEA – to read our personal communications without a warrant. The law was passed in 1986, before email really existed, and before social media and cloud storage was even a twinkle in the not-really-existent Internet’s eye.

There are several bills before Congress that would fix ECPA by requiring a warrant for searches of private communications. However, the SEC is blocking legislation by pushing for a special provision that would allow regulatory agencies to get personal document direct from online service providers without a warrant. Such a carve-out would neuter any reform, the CDT says.

So, what next? Well, says Stanley, now we wait for the White House to speak. “We’re going to keep the pressure on the White House in order to pass a clean ECPA reform bill,” Stanley says.

He expects a response within the next couple of weeks.

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