House Votes Unanimously In Favor Of Requiring A Warrant To Search Emails

from the yay! dept

The push to reform ECPA — the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — have been going on basically as long as this site has been in existence (i.e. nearly 20 years). There are lots of problems with ECPA, but the big one that everyone points to is that it considers any communication that’s on a server more than 180 days to be “abandoned” and accessible without a warrant. That perhaps made some amount of sense back in 1986 when the law was written, because everything was client-server and you downloaded your email off the server. But in an age of cloud computing and webmail it makes no sense at all. Still, the IRS and the SEC really, really liked the ability to use ECPA to snoop on people’s emails.

In the past few years, Congress has kept supporting reform, but it always dies when some part of the administration complains and tries to block it. And yet, each time it enters Congress, it gets more and more sponsors. And, finally, the full House has voted to pass the Email Privacy Act. It was no surprise that it passed. The bill had an astounding 315 cosponsors. Seriously:

Still, it’s impressive that the bill ended up passing unanimously, 419 votes to 0 (and 14 missing votes). On an issue like this, that’s surprising. You figured there would be some Congressional rep from somewhere arguing that this would let terrorists and child predators off the hook or something.

The bill is certainly not perfect, and could be improved, but it’s nice to see the House get the basics right. Now, we wait and see what happens in the Senate… Will the Senate ignore a unanimous House and let this bill just die, or will it finally do the right thing and protect email privacy?

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Comments on “House Votes Unanimously In Favor Of Requiring A Warrant To Search Emails”

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24 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Self-interest is a powerful motivator

That was my thought. Someone probably managed to finally explain to Congress that the current ECPA meant that the SEC and IRS could read their emails, their families’ emails, and the emails of their business associates without a warrant because all email remains on servers these days unless you specifically make a point of deleting it from the server.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Self-interest is a powerful motivator

All they have to do is look around and realize all the crap Hillary is getting into right now, to know they don’t want anyone looking in their mail. They know the mail would likely help create probable cause, so they don’t want it to be open.

The critters don’t last long if they don’t learn to protect themselves!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Self-interest is a powerful motivator

Dunno. I think something nefarious is going on below the surface. I doubt it’s self-interest because they could’ve just figured out a way to exempt nothing but their own email from ECPA if that were the real and only motivation (cf. ‘insider trading’). And I’m sure as hell they ain’t doing it for the sake of us regular citizens… except maybe the ‘united’ ones.

Anonymous Coward says:

A post that accidentally turned into verse.

Unanimous support abides less the sky is blue.
What impetus but reason, for their reason be ruse.

To this condition how?
What clock renders it now?
They are not all pissed,
but today it is popular to be populist?

Decades of constitutional duties derided,
not a mind decided until this very moment?
So that a squeak not a fight,
twas all it took to set reason aflight?

There was no rush before the setting sun.
No fight, no shout, no great debate.
There shall be no move soon or late,
that won’t be forestalled but one!

To prevent credit for low hanging fruit,
from ever reaching the servants of POTUS new.
It was sat on in turn for years or more,
by legislative squat cobbler troubadours.

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

Yeah, Okay

Yeah, okay. That is great, but why would those who snoop on emails care what other government officials think or say. After all. When your boss can lie under oath repeatedly without getting into trouble. Or torture individuals. Or invade/attack other sovereign nations. Or you can break every rule involving classified information on servers not under government control then run for POTUS. It is abundantly clear that they will keep doing what they want. Without fear of retribution or punishment. This government SUCKS.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

There are lots of problems with ECPA, but the big one that everyone points to is that it considers any communication that’s on a server more than 180 days to be “abandoned” and accessible without a warrant. That perhaps made some amount of sense back in 1986 when the law was written, because everything was client-server and you downloaded your email off the server. But in an age of cloud computing and webmail it makes no sense at all.

In all fairness, how often do you go back and look at–or even care about–mail over 6 months old on your webmail account? It might as well be “abandoned,” realistically speaking, no matter where it’s stored, no?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And even if I never looked at any email older than 6 months again, it doesn’t mean I want some asshole with power complex and a badge snooping through them without a warrant.

If you had a box of old files in your closet that you hadn’t opened in over 6 months, you think it’d be fine for police to come snoop around in there?

Are secrets older than 6 months not a secret any more because you haven’t told anyone?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I haven’t seen or looked at it in a couple months/years” is vastly different than “I have no problem with some stranger browsing through it at a whim.” I’m sure a great many people have letters that they’ve saved, photo albums or journals that they haven’t touched in years, yet they’d still object to people going through them claiming that they’re ‘abandoned’.

Similarly just because someone hasn’t chosen to go through and delete old emails doesn’t mean they should be up for grabs to any police or government agent who may want to look through them.

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