The House of Representatives Is Ready to Require a Warrant for Email Access

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 18 2014 3:36 PM

The House of Representatives Is Ready to Require a Warrant for Email Access

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Your emails are safe from prying eyes ... if you keep them on these.

Photo from Shutterstock.

Privacy advocates have been looking to revise the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act for years. It was written before email was widespread and allows cops to read emails that are six months old or older without a warrant. That’s because the law treats emails that are “undownloaded” as abandoned property. In 1986 that might have been a fair assumption, but today most of us use webmail and don’t necessarily have local copies of our emails, it being 2014 and all.

Up until now, nothing had actually happened. But on Tuesday, the Email Privacy Act update to the ECPA gained its 218th co-sponsor in the House of Representatives, which means an absolute majority now supports it. As Mark Stanley of the Center for Democracy & Technology pointed out in a blog post, the three most recent co-sponsors are Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.; Ted Deutch, D-Fla.; and Cedric Richmond, D-La.—a good representation of the bill's unusual overall bipartisan support.

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If the House votes on the bill, it will pass, so now's the time. Twenty-eight years is long enough to wait, right? Especially since the state of digital privacy has changed, well, quite a bit since the ’80s.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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