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article imageU.S. House passes Email Privacy Act for a second time

By Arthur Weinreb     Feb 8, 2017 in Technology
Washington - The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill requiring the government to obtain a warrant to obtain access to old emails. The proposed legislation is now headed to the Senate. This is the second time the House passed the bill.
The Email Privacy Act passed the House Monday evening by a unanimous voice vote. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KAN.), is meant to close a loophole in the current Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The ECPA was passed in 1986 and was intended to protect people from government overreach.
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The loophole in the ECPA is that old emails (those more than 180 days old) are deemed to have been abandoned. As such, the Department of Justice and other governmental agencies can obtain them without the necessity of obtaining a warrant signed by a judge. Currently, all that is necessary to get these emails is the issuance of a subpoena directed at the tech companies that holds the emails on its servers. Requirements to obtain a subpoena are much less stringent than requiring a judge to issue a warrant.
House passed the Email Privacy Act once before
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Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) delivers remarks and answers questions after hearing about Obama s Immi...
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) delivers remarks and answers questions after hearing about Obama's Immigration Executive Order.
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is not the first time the House passed this bill. The Email Privacy Act was introduced in 2015 and it passed the House in a unanimous vote last April. But the proposed legislation failed to make it out of the Senate. Senator Jeff Sessions was credited with killing the bill because he wanted authorities to be able to demand these emails from tech companies without a warrant in “emergency situations.” And Senator John Cornyn used the bill to add additional requirements increasing the surveillance capabilities of the FBI. These additional requirement led the bill to expire.
Sessions is President Trump’s appointee as attorney general and he is currently awaiting Senate confirmation. It is hoped if Sessions is confirmed and leaves the Senate, the bill will be able to pass with bipartisan support. Proponents of the bill argue the legislation is necessary because the ECPA, enacted in 1986 before the Internet, is outdated.
Tech companies are in favour of Email Privacy Act
Major tech companies support the bill and a joint letter signed by more than 60 entities was written in support of the Email Privacy Act. These companies include Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook as well as other organizations including the ACLU. The Software Alliance made up of major software manufacturers including Apple, Adobe and IBM also issued support for the bill.
Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and security at Google, said the Email Privacy Act “will fix the constitutional flaw” in the ECPA that was enacted prior to the Internet coming into everyday use. Salgado also said while people disagree with various aspects of surveillance law there is no disagreement that emails and other electronic content deserves the protection of the Fourth Amendment.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is not totally pleased with the bill. While praising it as a step in the right direction, the EFF points out there is no requirement to notify people whose emails are handed over to the government.
Tech companies, privacy organizations and others are concerned the administration of President Trump, who campaigned on law and order and eradicating terrorism, may increase government spying on American individuals and organizations.
More about US House of Representatives, email privacy act, jeff sessions, electronic communications privacy act, Warrants
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