Congress May Decide To Rewrite Old Surveillance Laws
Two Senators are going after an old bill that allows law enforcement to snoop through your email without a search warrant.
Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Mike Lee announced their plan to reintroduce legislation in the coming weeks that would require a warrant based on probable cause before authorities could search any of your private emails.
The legislation would give what the senators say is a badly needed update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed nearly 30 years ago. The current bill allows authorities to search emails that are more than 180 days old without a warrant, the Hill reports.
“There was no World Wide Web, no cloud computing, and no social media — much of the technology that we take for granted today,” the Senators said in a Real Clear Politics op-ed. “After three decades, it is time to update this law.”
Currently, law enforcement officials can access your emails acting only on a court order, which is much easier to obtain than a standard search warrant. Courts have previously justified this seizure by concluding that old electronic communications are actually “business transactions,” and so belong to the communications company, not the individual.
To get a search warrant, police would instead be required to demonstrate probable cause that someone has committed a crime.
Aside from emails, the legislation would also protect electronic communication through accounts like Facebook, Yahoo! and Google.
“The government is already prohibited from tapping our phones or forcibly entering our homes to obtain private information without warrants,” the Senators said. “The same privacy protections should apply to our online communications.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the legislation but it has not become law. Last year 273 members of the House supported the legislation.
“Americans routinely are bombarded with news stories about invasive new surveillance technologies,” the pair wrote. “But Congress has yet to pass even the most basic legislation on the issue: a bill to ensure that law-enforcement agents cannot read Americans’ private e-mails without search warrants.”
The Senators claim broad, bipartisan support for their legislation.
“A diverse coalition of more than 100 leaders in the privacy, civil-liberties, civil-rights, and technology communities, including Americans for Tax Reform, the ACLU, the Heritage Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and many major technology companies, also support our bill,” the Senators wrote.
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