Who reads your email?
by Sam Rolley
If government snoops wanted to read a letter you retrieved yesterday from your mailbox, they’d need to show you a warrant. But if you have emails that’ve been sitting in your email inbox for more than 180 days, an investigator could be reading them right now.
A bipartisan duo of House lawmakers is trying to change that.
Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), along with 223 co-sponsors, reintroduced the Email Privacy Act on Wednesday.
The legislation would require police to get a warrant before searching Americans’ email and other documents or items stored digitally in the cloud with an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
“The last time Congress updated our email privacy laws, we were two years removed from the release of the first Macintosh computer,” Yoder said in a statement. “It’s time Congress modernized these outdated statutes to ensure that the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment extend to Americans’ email correspondence and digital storage.”
The federal government currently argues that electronic communications older than 180 days are the digital equivalent of trash at the curb and, thus, fair game for warrantless searches.
Yoder told Roll Call that he believed most Americans assume email conversations are as private as phone calls and text messages.
“And the law should catch up and treat it the same way,” he said.
While the privacy legislation has hefty support and a Senate companion bill sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), there’s no promise of passage. Polis and Yoder introduced the same legislation last year with 272 co-sponsors and the bill never made it to the House Judiciary Committee for markup.
The Securities and Exchange Commission was largely responsible for urging lawmakers not to vote on the previous version of the email privacy bill. As a civil regulatory agency the SEC lacks the power to obtain warrants and relies heavily on subpoena enabled email snooping in its investigations of American businesses and individuals.