Saturday, February 11, 2017

House Passes Email Privacy Act, Again

On Feb 6, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed the Email Privacy Act.   The Act was then read twice in the Senate and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. If enacted, the Act would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) to require the government to get a probable cause criminal warrant to access emails, social media accounts and similar online content stored in the cloud for more than 180 days. In other words, if the gov't wanted to access suspect's email, it would have to go through the same procedure that is currently required for paper communications or phone calls.

Currently, paper files and electronic data that is less than 180 days old may only be searched with a warrant. Beyond 180 days, according to the ECPA, law enforcement agencies can search cloud data with mere subpoenas which are easier to obtain than a judge-issued warrant.

But, even though the Email Privacy Act is popular at the House (109 co-sponsors), it may have difficulty passing the Senate where a similar billed, also passed unanimously by the House in April 2016, failed to get through due to Republicans blocking it. Critics of the bill point out that it will make it more difficult for the gov't to investigate crimes and terrorism.