House Of Representatives Unanimously Passes Email Privacy Bill

The House of Representatives took a major step towards maintaining personal privacy today.

The Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699), is a bill meant to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by requiring that law enforcement obtain a warrant before searching private communications stored in the cloud, the Center for Democracy & Technology writes. The ECPA was passed in 1986, and contained loopholes that could be interpreted to mean that no warrant would be required before seizing emails.

That means that cloud-based communication is held to the same evidentiary standard as, say, written letters. The ruling is consistent with current FBI and Department of Justice practices, and also ratifies the Sixth Circuit’s decision in U.S. v. Warshak, a ruling that declared that emails fall under the protection of the Fourth Amendment.

Representatives debated for a scant 40 minutes, using much of the time to refer back to 1986, when “Cabbage Patch Kids were flying off the shelves,” according to TechCrunch. Legislators agreed that change to the outdated law was long overdue.

“Under current law, there are more protections for a letter in a filing cabinet than an email on a server,” Representative Suzan Delbene (D-Wash.) said during her remarks.

The Center for Democracy and Technology offered measured praise for the bill.

“While not perfect, Chairman Goodlatte has advanced a bill that achieves the main goal of reform efforts – assuring the content of digital communication is protected by a warrant,” Chris Calabrese, CDT Vice President of Policy, said in a statement. “It addresses core law enforcement concerns and protects our privacy. The Senate should build on this momentum and make the Email Privacy Act law.”

So rest easy, your emails are safe. Until the government gets a warrant, at least.
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