House Passes Crucial Email Privacy Bill, Senate Must Follow

Today, the House of Representatives unanimously passed (419–0) the Email Privacy Act, which would finally require law enforcement to get a warrant before accessing Americans’ emails and other electronic communications — regardless of how old they are. The bill closes a major privacy loophole in the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which allowed warrantless access to any electronic communications left in the cloud longer than 180 days. ECPA reform has enjoyed strong bipartisan support for years, but fierce resistance from regulators, who sought an exemption from the warrant requirement, stalled reform. Fortunately, no such carve-out was included in the bill.

In a letter to Congress, TechFreedom joined a variety of civil society organizations, companies and trade associations in support of ECPA reform:

The bill reported from committee does not achieve all of the reforms we had hoped for. Indeed, it removes key provisions of the proposed bill, such as the section requiring notice from the government to the customer when a warrant is served, which are necessary to protect users. However, it does impose a warrant-for-content rule with limited exceptions. We are particularly pleased that the bill does not carve out civil agencies from the warrant requirement, which would have expanded government surveillance power and undermined the very purpose of the bill.

The Senate must follow the House’s lead on email privacy,” said Tom Struble, Policy Counsel at TechFreedom. “For far too long, the Senate has allowed regulatory agencies — that want exemptions from warrant requirements — to delay ECPA reform, despite overwhelming bipartisan support. Today’s vote sends a strong message that Congress is finally serious about ensuring basic constitutional principles in the digital realm.”

The battle over digital privacy is far from over,” Struble continued. “Congress has yet to act to protect geolocation data from warrantless searches — the other key component of ECPA reform. And it will take a lot more than ECPA reform to repair our international reputation when it comes to surveillance. Congress needs to build on today’s momentum and finally reform foreign surveillance practices under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333.”

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We can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org. See more of our work on ECPA and privacy, especially:

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