Congress Tries Once Again To Require Warrants To Search Emails
from the will-it-actually-happen? dept
The efforts to reform ECPA -- the Electronic Communications and Privacy Act -- have been going on for basically two decades at this point. The law, which was passed in 1986, has a whole bunch of problems, with the biggest one (as we've discussed dozens of times) being that it considers any email that's been on a server for more than 180 days "abandoned," and thus freely searchable by law enforcement without a warrant. That's because there was no concept of cloud computing back in 1986. People who got email "retrieved" those emails off of a server and downloaded them to local storage. Many in Congress have been trying to fix this for so, so, so many years. And it always gets blocked. The IRS and the SEC have both been fairly proactive in trying to block ECPA reform bills that will require a warrant (funny: I thought it was the 4th Amendment that made such a warrant necessary, but, silly me, no one cares about the 4th Amendment any more).
Last year, a plan to fix ECPA, called the Email Privacy Act, with an astounding 315 co-sponsors, passed the House unanimously. As we noted at the time, this is fairly incredible. In these contentious times -- especially on issues related to surveillance and law enforcement -- to have a unanimous vote on a law that says "get a warrant" if you want access to emails, is quite incredible. But, of course, even with that much support on that side of Congress, the Senate has a way of killing ECPA reform each and every year. Last year, a few Senators -- including Jeff Sessions, who is likely to be our next Attorney General -- tried to bury it with ridiculous amendments that would expand surveillance.
On Monday, the reintroduced Email Privacy Act easily passed the House via a voice vote, showing that our Congressional Members still recognize how important this is. Of course, now it gets to go back to the Senate, and we saw how well that worked last year. And then we have to believe that President Trump will sign the bill. Stranger things have happened, of course, but it still seems like a longshot that real ECPA reform will become law this year. It's great that Rep. Kevin Yoder, along with Reps. Jared Polis, Bob Goodlatte, John Conyers, Ted Poe, Suzan DelBene, Will Hurd, Jerry Nadler, Doug Collins and Judy Chu keep pushing this bill. I disagree with many of the folks on that list on a number of other issues we cover, but the fact that they're willing to support basic 4th Amendment concepts for email is worthy of recognition. Now, hopefully, the Senate won't try to muck it up again.