Senate Judiciary Committee Votes That Accessing Your Email Should Require A Warrant

from the good-for-them dept

Well, that went more smoothly than expected. Today, in a markup for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee very quickly (like 10 minutes after it started) approved an amendment offered by Senators Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee, which would amend the law to make it so that law enforcement needs to get a warrant if it’s accessing your email. As we’ve discussed in the past, the ECPA today is completely outdated, and treats different emails differently — but a key point is that emails over 180 days old don’t require a warrant, just a subpoena, because the law mistakenly judges them to be abandoned. The Amendment was approved by a voice vote, meaning that there was pretty strong support for it. The Leahy-Lee plan is definitely a necessary step in protecting privacy of emails, and while Leahy especially has been pushing it for a while, seeing strong support in the Senate is a good sign for (hopefully) having it become law.

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Comments on “Senate Judiciary Committee Votes That Accessing Your Email Should Require A Warrant”

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14 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They just refuse to see the conflict. In their minds Mike is reading CISPA like satan reads the bible.

While the white house needs to cover up a potential scandal, the republicans want to strenghten the security apparatus in USA. By giving unlimited rights to government three letter salad, the only stone in their shoe is efficiency and that is definitely less controversial than limiting the peoples rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

sorry if i’m a bit confused here. maybe someone can put me right? if Congress is on the verge of getting CISPA into law, a bill that basically takes away so many rights of privacy, why are those same congressmen now implementing a bill to make it illegal to read emails without a warrant? would it not have been easier and quicker to just not have brought CISPA in in the first place? would it not have been more prudent to have checked more fully what it entailed instead of believing the lies put out about that bill by it’s sponsor, Rogers (whose wife’s ex-company will benefit greatly from it’s introduction? not that she’ll get anything out of it, of course :-)) and then having to introduce something else to counter at least some of the shit just made legal?

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re:

While I agree with your sentiment, there are several reasons why email can’t have the same level of protection as a letter.

Regular email is more like a postcard. A postcard is mailed and anyone and everyone who sees the post card can easily read not only addressing information but the entire contents of the card. This is the same way regular email is sent across the internet. It can be read by anyone who’s system it passes through. (Probably 3 – 10 SMTP servers and countless switches and routers).

If you want to send a letter like email, one that can’t be read by everyone along the way) then you need to encrypt the email. Unfortunately, despite things like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and GPG (GNU Privacy Guard) being around for well over a decade, as well as other encryption options. People, for the most part, have refused to embrace the option to securely transmit emails. They just can’t be bothered, even when sending personal information such as SS#s Name age address…

Sure you can make it so they need to get a warrant to scan your inbox, but why do that when they can easily get your email while in transit with something like the FBI’s former Carnivore system or now with NarusInsight (or whatever other unpublished methods they have currently).

Much like all security most people just can’t be bothered, or they think they don’t have anything important enough to protect. They are wrong of course, but that doesn’t change the facts. This is even more true with social media, which is something I have yet to embrace.

Much of my email is encrypted, because frankly it is my responsibility to protect that which I care about. However, some of it can’t be encrypted because the other party(ies) refused to be bothered with such things.

amberb (profile) says:

Email Encryption is the answer

What we need is encryption that is done before it leaves our computers, so that our email providers never get the contents of our emails in the first place. PGP has been proven effective. The problem is that it is hard to set up and use for most people. Also, those who did build easy-to-use systems always end up selling out. Remember Hushmail? The advertise themselves as providing encrypted emails that “even their employees can’t decrypt” But, they give over your private keys and decrypt your messages whenever the government asks for it. They didn’t start out that way though. I have to wonder what kind of pressure/bribes the government was up to to make them sell out. Open source software that runs locally would seem to be a good answer. One of the techniques Hushmail used to give over your information was to supply the target under investigation with an “update” to their software that essentially bypassed their security and sent up the private keys that they then used to decrypt all your messages and give to the government. Open source software would help defeat that kind of trick. The recipient could compare the source of the update with a known repository and notice any discrepencies. Programmers could easily spot suspicious code and let users know they are being compromised.

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