‘Email Privacy Act’ Passes The House Unanimously For The Second Time

The Email Privacy Act passed the House unanimously for the second time, after failing to pass the Senate last year. The bill aims to close a loophole in the older Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) that allows the police to obtain emails that are older than six months without a warrant.

Updating The Electronic Communications Privacy Act

One of the ECPA’s biggest flaws is that it allowed the U.S. government to obtain emails without a warrant as long as the emails were more than 180 days old. This loophole may not make much sense today, but when the law was introduced in 1986, it’s likely that nobody thought people would want to keep emails for more than six months. Therefore, it may not have been considered much of a privacy issue at the time.

Today's email services tend to hold on to data indefinitely, which means law enforcement agencies wouldn't need a warrant to obtain virtually all of your emails. However, this type of policy was found unconstitutional by one court, and the whole House of Representatives has agreed twice that warrantless access to emails is not acceptable, which is why they’re now trying to pass a law against it.

Second Time's The Charm?

The last time the bill passed unanimously through the House, it was blocked in the Senate. This was in part because Senator Jeff Sessions tried to bring the “emergency” clause back into the bill. This would have let the government bypass the warrant requirement by interpreting most data requests as “emergencies.”

Even if the bill passes through the Senate this time, it may need an overwhelming majority to become law. President Trump has been critical of certain privacy protections and Sessions, his pick for the head of the Justice Department, has also been a supporter of encryption backdoors.

This doesn’t mean that President Trump will veto the bill once it reaches his office, but he may try to pressure senators into voting against it on the Senate floor.

Representative Darrell Issa released the following statement after the bill passed the House:

If the government wants to read your emails, then they should be required to obtain a warrant just like they would need in order to read your letters, search your hard drive or listen in on your phone calls. Technology has made incredible advances over the years, but the privacy laws for digital communications just haven't kept pace.Right now, the rules governing how and when the government can access a person's emails, photos, documents and other online communications are outdated and do not provide for the same Fourth Amendment protections given to on-paper or in-person communications.The bill we've passed today is an important privacy safeguard that will help cement Americans' rights in the digital age.

Email Privacy Act Still Not Perfect

A compromise was made last year to eliminate the emergency clause from the bill. However, that compromise also removed another clause, which would have required law enforcement to notify citizens when they are under investigation. People will instead have to rely on the companies receiving these warrants to notify them about the investigation. Because companies aren’t obligated to do this, chances are good that many simply won't.

Still, the Email Privacy Act remains an improvement over the existing law, as long as other privacy protections aren't removed as it passes through the Senate. We’ll have to see how it evolves over the coming weeks or months.

The bill is supported by all members of the House as well companies such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, and organizations such as the ACLU, the Consumer Technology Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, FreedomWorks, the Internet Association and more.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • jeremy2020
    Excellent. I'm sure trump is glad that his private email server will need a warrant to be accessed for what are sure to be many trials.
  • majorlag
    Stop, just stop with the Political agenda fluf Tom's.

    We do not come here to see your Trump bashing, we came here for tech news. Sneaking in lines to promote hate and discontent to push your Political agenda is not news.

    "Trump has been critical of certain privacy protections" has nothing to do with email privacy. Let me break it down, since someone obviously read one line and said there it is, Trump is evil. That link was talking about Illegal aliens. The first word should have been a clue, break the law and its called an illegal act. That bill if read just one section, such as 14, would lead you to believe that Trump is against all privacy. No, sorry, it clearly states in the entire bill, that those sections are talking about Illegal Immigrants. And if you have already committed a crime by breaking the law, don't think you should expect any Privacy.

    This is not talking about Joe from Timbuktu who shall receive the wrath of the US government. No, this is a person who is here illegally has committed a crime, and now is not protected with any Privileges that a US citizen is granted.

    Trump has been President for 18 days, he has no record of what kind of president he is. The yard stick measurement of 100 days is for a reason, then people can make informed decisions on how well he will be doing. His picks of cabinet members have been stalled at every turn, the AG Sessions hasn't even been on the job, yet you feel the need to take aim there too. Don't make baseless claims of blocking the bill, when he has a mere 18 days on the clock, that's conjecture and this article should be tagged as an opinion piece and not actual news

    Lets get back to what you should be doing, talking about Tech news, objectively, knowledgeable and without Political garbage.

  • Zaphod42
    By "political garbage," majorlag means "anything I disagree with."
  • chicofehr
    Politics is fun. If everyone agreed then it would be boring. I come to Toms for the comment section and without arguments its not as fun to read :P
  • cats_Paw
    Guys, you do realize that the whole point in having you argue about politics is that those who run them both get to keep you blind from the fact that you are being taxed for working while those who dont work can get that money?

    Politicians are just there to explain to you why thats ok.
  • 80-watt Hamster
    19268933 said:
    Guys, you do realize that the whole point in having you argue about politics is that those who run them both get to keep you blind from the fact that you are being taxed for working while those who dont work can get that money?

    Politicians are just there to explain to you why thats ok.

    And your employer gets taxed for paying you, and for the land they own (if they own it) and their physical inventory, investors get taxed on the money their investment makes, etc. etc. and so on and so forth. Public works have to get paid for somehow, and since a government doesn't (typically) generate capital, that means taxes of some kind. Without exploiting loopholes or having the resources to influence tax law in your favor, everyone gets the screws put to them. Someone presumably smarter than I once said that all taxes by nature are unfair. Politicians mostly try to make as many people unhappy to the least degree possible while also managing to stay in office. Not saying that I have a great deal of sympathy for them, but I recognize that it's a difficult, thankless job that often gets less respect than it deserves.
  • Pixdawg
    If Majorlag dislikes what Tom's has to say, there's a very easy solution--it's similar to the one for TV you dislike. Don't read it.