Email Privacy Act Gets Heard In The House Of Representatives

A 2-year-old email privacy bill will finally have its day in the House of Representatives Tuesday.

The Email Privacy Act -- a bipartisan bill led by Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) -- is aimed at closing a loophole in the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) that allows the government to use a subpoena to force technology companies and service providers to reveal customers' emails if they are more than 180 days old.

The new bill -- if passed and signed into law -- would ensure that government agencies obtain a warrant before any stored electronic communications are exchanged, such as email, text, and/or video.



The hearing also comes at a time of heightened national and international security concerns, and some lawmakers have argued that privacy laws would hinder counter-terrorism efforts.

Proponents of the bill want to enhance digital security, but also aim to update a technologically outdated law. The original 1986 act was passed before the rise of cloud storage, and when technology companies would likely not have stored anything older than six months.

Supporters include Google and the Center for Democracy and Technology, which will both be testifying on Tuesday. 

Opponents of the bill testifying on Tuesday include representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The SEC currently lacks the authority to obtain criminal warrants, and fears the new bill will harm their investigations. The SEC has proposed referendums to the bill that would allow them to continue using subpoenas to access digital records as long as they give prior notice to the target of investigation.

A survey of over a thousand American voters released today by proponents of the bill, Digital Fourth Coalition, shows that Americans overwhelmingly support email privacy overhaul. 86% of Americans responded that they supported updating ECPA with new privacy protections, including 87% of men, 85% of women, 85% of Americans under 30, and 76% of Americans older than 65.


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