Email privacy bill passes House, faces resistance in Senate

The House of Representatives unanimously passed an electronic communications privacy bill on Wednesday, replacing 30 year-old legislation which allowed federal law enforcement agencies to search individual’s private emails without a warrant.

The bill will require national investigation units to obtain a warrant before accessing communication files from tech companies. Currently, the FBI, for example, only needs a court subpoena to do so.

The Email Privacy Act passed 419-0 and would afford electronic mail the same constitutional protections as mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service. If ultimately signed into law, the Act would replace the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA).

The bill will now head to Congress’ upper-chamber, where more than 25 senators have acknowledged their support of similar legislation, including John Cornyn (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT).

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has yet to decide whether the bill will be scheduled for an up or down vote which is required before it can be released to the Senate floor for a final ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ decision.

“In 1986, the assumption was that if you left your email on a server it was abandoned, like trash on a street corner,” said Email Privacy Act sponsor, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS). “[This bill] restores the Fourth Amendment and treats email with the same protections as paper mail.”

Earlier in April, Microsoft Corp. filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department in federal court for the government’s alleged unconstitutional use of ECPA, which prevented the company from notifying its customers if a law enforcement agency was accessing its server to find emails relevant to an investigation.

 

[Reuters] [The Intercept] [Photo courtesy freedomworks.org]