The House of Representatives has passed the Email Privacy Act, which requires law enforcement agencies to get a search warrant in order to obtain emails and some other stored records that are older than six months.
The legislation is an effort to modify the old Electronic Communications Privacy Act to reflect the way that service providers handle and store email. When the ECPA became law in 1986, service providers generally didn’t store their customers’ email messages for long periods of time. The ISPs mainly acted as forwarding services, and the ECPA allowed the government to access emails older than 180 days without a search warrant because those messages were considered abandoned.
The new Email Privacy Act would update that rule and on Monday the House passed the bill by voice vote. The legislation now moves on to the Senate, where it stalled last year after passing the House unanimously. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) reintroduced the Email Privacy Act in January and urged their colleagues to move it along quickly to close the warrantless search loophole.
“Emails and electronic content deserve Fourth Amendment protections.”
“After the unanimous passage of our bill last year, I see no reason why we can’t get this done right away,” Yoder said. “Let’s give the Senate ample time to act, because more than 30 years has been long enough for Congress to wait on this. It’s simple, in 2017 if the federal government wants to access Americans’ digital content, it must get a warrant.”
The updated privacy act is receiving support from a number of tech groups, including the EFF, and now Google is advocating for its passage, as well.
“This Act will fix a constitutional flaw in ECPA, which currently purports to allow the government to compel a provider to disclose email contents in some cases without a warrant, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Email Privacy Act ensures that the content of our emails are protected in the same way that the Fourth Amendment protects the items we store in our homes,” said Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and information security at Google.
“The Senate now has a historic opportunity to shepherd this landmark reform toward enactment. While there are disagreements about other aspects of surveillance reform, there is no disagreement that emails and electronic content deserve Fourth Amendment protections.”