Congress

House passes email protection bill

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The House passed a bill on April 27 meant to close a loophole that had allowed feds to access Americans' old email messages from remote storage.

The Email Privacy Act would amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. That Reagan-era law, which long predated the advent of cloud computing, enabled law enforcement agents to obtain customers' electronic communications from service providers without a warrant as long as those communications had been stored electronically for more than 180 days.

Under the Email Privacy Act, law enforcement agents would need a warrant to access those messages.

The bill passed without opposition under suspension of House rules. It was sponsored by 314 lawmakers, led by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.).

"The Email Privacy Act will update our archaic privacy laws for the 21st century and safeguard our Fourth Amendment rights," Polis said on the House floor. "I'm proud that the House has passed this commonsense bill, and I look forward to a swift passage in the Senate."

A companion bill is being sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has held a hearing on the bill but has not indicated when the legislation might move through his committee to an eventual Senate vote.

Some agencies have objected to the bill because they say it could subject investigators pursuing environmental, antitrust and civil rights cases to a stricter standard when it comes to collecting evidence. Pushback from law enforcement helped spur an amendment that did away with a notification requirement during House committee discussions earlier this month.

The bill had garnered widespread support from the private sector, including backing from Google, Microsoft and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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