House passes bill forcing feds to seek warrant for old email

The bill unanimously passes the House in a 419-0 vote.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Lawmakers unanimously voted in favor of a new email privacy bill, which would compel the government to seek a warrant to access email that's considered abandoned.

The bipartisan Email Privacy Act passed in a 419-0 vote, a feat rarely seen in either chamber.

Under the bill, authorities will now need a warrant for email and messages that are older than 180 days.

Currently, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) allows some agencies -- like the Justice Dept. and the Securities and Exchange Commission, access to cloud-stored data with a subpoena, which doesn't require a judge.

The bill became the most popular in the House, gaining 315 out of 435 sponsors by the time it left the Judiciary Committee.

Though the committee's chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA, 6th) was slow to pick up the bill, he later said that he "supports" the core of the draft bill.

Despite one-quarter of all senators supporting the bill, it's not clear if the Senate's version will advance in an election year, according to Reuters.

Federal agencies who heavily rely on keeping the old and outdated ECPA law intact have campaigned to keep the statute as is.

But many companies, like Google, already proactively demand a warrant before they turn over data.

Apple, Google, and Yahoo have said they support the proposed law.

Privacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Democracy & Technology, also support the reform effort.

"While not perfect, Chairman Goodlatte has advanced a bill that achieves the main goal of reform efforts - assuring the content of digital communication is protected by a warrant," said Chris Calabrese, vice president of policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington DC-based pro-internet group. "It addresses core law enforcement concerns and protects our privacy."

"The Senate should build on this momentum and make the Email Privacy Act law," said Calabrese.

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