Email privacy measure gaining support in the House

Though the ongoing controversy and revelations about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs have slowed any legislative action to reform loopholes in outdated electronic communications laws, The Hill reports that the Email Privacy Act is picking up steam in the House of Representatives:

The Email Privacy Act from Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kans.), Tom Graves (R-Ga.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has 181 co-sponsors in the House, and the authors are “still pushing to get more,” according to a Yoder spokesman.

“There’s a lot of growing support for that bill,” said Mark Stanley of the Center for Democracy and Technology. “A lot of members of Congress see this as a common sense thing.”

More than 40 lawmakers have signed onto the bill since November, pushing the total close to the magic number of 218, which would represent a majority of the House.
[…]
Passage of legislation to limit warrantless email searches appeared to be a done deal last year until revelations about National Security Agency surveillance rocked the debate.

The focus on the activities of the NSA shifted Congress’s focus from law enforcement access to national security, shunting the email issue aside.

Thanks to a loophole in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), emails lose protected status after 180 days and can be accessed by third-party providers without a warrant. The Email Privacy Act would close the loophole. This video, produced by End180Days.org, offers a humorous and informative take on this issue:

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared a similar measure, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT), in April 2013. That legislation received support from ideologically diverse groups, including the Americans Civil Liberties Union and Heritage Action. Unfortunately, an unnamed Republican senator placed a hold on the measure, blocking it from coming to a Senate floor for a vote.

The House Appropriations Committee did pass an amendment to the Financial Services appropriations bill in July 2013 that would have required some government agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and Securities and Exchange Commission, to get a warrant before accessing Americans’ emails. That measure was never taken up in the Senate and rendered moot.

It’ll be hard to ignore the Email Privacy Act it 218 or more House members sign on to the measure. But House leadership is completely tone deaf on privacy issues, so if this common sense measure does come up for a vote, it’ll be because of grassroots pressure.


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