The Email Privacy Act (H.R.699) sponsored by Kevin Yoder with an incredible 314 cosponsors finally began moving forward after a year long stall. Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee reached a unanimous 28-0 vote and the Email Privacy Act is expected to move forward through the full chamber.
Committee member Jerrold Nadler made the statement:
“Our nation’s laws must be brought up-to-date with advances in technology to clarify issues of electronic privacy and third-party involvement, which is why the significance of this legislation cannot be overstated,”
“It’s clearly time for federal law to reflect the realities of today’s technology, and we urge the House to prioritize consumers’ right to privacy and quickly pass this bill.” said Gary Shapiro, President of the Consumer Technology Association, in a statement.
The Act aims to “prohibit a provider of remote computing service or electronic communication service to the public from knowingly divulging to a governmental entity the contents of any communication that is in electronic storage or otherwise maintained by the provider, subject to exceptions.”
The exception being government entities can require the disclosure of information only if they have a warrant which will close a loophole in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act
(ECPA) that allows them to obtain data without a warrant. The ECPA, passed in 1986, required authorities to obtain a warrant for data newer than 180 days. Data older than than 180 days was fair game with only an administrative subpoena being needed.
Under the proposed legislation, the government wouldn’t have to notify the people that the data they obtained belongs to, but the companies subpoenaed can. Those companies can also be forced to withhold notification under Section 2705 which states:
“A court shall grant a request for delayed notification made … if the court determines that there is reason to believe that notification of the existence of the warrant may result in — endangering the life or physical safety of an individual; flight from prosecution; destruction of or tampering with evidence; intimidation of potential witnesses; or otherwise seriously jeopardizing an investigation or unduly delaying a trial.”
Recent changes were made to the proposed legislation by the House Committee’s Chairman, Bob Goodlatte. While it keeps the Act’s intention intact, some of the changes made are relatively significant. According to the Daily Dot, Goodlatte made it so that a government entity didn’t need a warrant to obtain stored documents and essentially made warrants required only for sent and received communications. This means that a warrant would be required to obtain the file attachment in a email but not for a file hosted in the cloud which could be obtained by a simple subpoena.
While it isn’t perfect, this act is certainly a step in the right direction.