Electronic communication is defined in broad terms as “any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system.” Thus the ECPA extends privacy protection to everything from e-mail to drawings, pictures, and sounds as well. For communication to receive the law’s protection, it cannot be simply sent between two computers: the communication must take place in the course of interstate or foreign commerce.
However, numerous exceptions are spelled out in the law. These fall into three categories:
- Limited exceptions allowing employees of network services access to communication under specific circumstances
- Broad workplace exceptions allowing employers access to employee e-mail
- Conditional government authority to carry out criminal investigations