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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 3:50pm

    In congress, it is impressive if anything gets a unanimous vote

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 5:33pm

      Re:

      (fred sanford voice, clutching chest)
      'lisbeth, 'lisbeth, get the cloud ready, i'm comin to meet you, darlin' ! ! !

      kongresskritters doing something (ANYTHING) constructive that ALSO benefits the 99% ? ? ?
      i am dreaming...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 3:54pm

    Self-interest is a powerful motivator

    After all, even those politicians use e-mail extensively, these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 4:11pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Whatever (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 4:24pm

        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!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        TJGeezer (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 8:12am

        Re: Re: Self-interest is a powerful motivator

        Reminds me of Sen. Diane Feinstein, who strongly believes in snooping everyone's emails but her own. She sure was furious at the CIA for snooping her stuff. Might that have something to do with Congress finally reining in the scofflaws running the intel and enforcement bureaucracies?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 4:24pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 5:57pm

        Re: Re: Self-interest is a powerful motivator

        Yeah, something smells about this.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        BernardoVerda (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 6:08pm

        Re: Re: Self-interest is a powerful motivator

        But perhaps it would have been both difficult and dangerously insufficient, to leave out their friends, family, lovers, business partners, and campaign contributors...?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 4:00pm

    I be gobsmacked!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 4:12pm

    from the yay! dept
    Every fiber of my being is screaming that this should be 'from the what-the-hell-is-actually-going-on dept'.

    I say this because I have a memory of something called 'the past fifteen goddamn years'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 7:04pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Capt ICE Enforcer (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 7:24pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 8:57pm

    now they just have to start punishing agencies and police departments that refuse to obey this. There has to be accountability along with rules and laws or whats the point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 10:24pm

    Like this is going to stop the DOJ, LOL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2016 @ 2:59am

    Backed up on the "server"

    "it's impressive that the bill ended up passing unanimously"

    Not really, they all just figured out that their porn selfies are all backed up on the "server".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 7:17am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2016 @ 7:23am

      Re:

      Well, I don't typically check my will on a yearly basis either, but I certainly wouldn't consider it abandoned...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 7:51am

      Re:

      I have kept all nonspam emails that I've sent and received over the last 25 years or so, and I find that I search them about once per month for various things.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2016 @ 8:04am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 8:05am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 7:49am

    So House votes unanimously in favor of the obvious. Rare display of sanity eh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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