The ECPA amendment that would require government agencies to obtain a warrant when accessing email hasn’t made much headway since the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it back in April. Now the House is trying to make sure email privacy is here to stay with a different strategy.
The Hill reports that Rep. Kevin Yoder added an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2014 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that would require the agencies funded by said bill to obtain a warrant when requesting private emails. Surprisingly, the amendment received an amazing show of bipartisan support as it was unanimously approved by the entire House Appropriations Committee.
Yoder said that the passage of this amendment is the first step towards making sure the Fourth Amendment protects Americans’ privacy – online and off:
“By passing this amendment, the Appropriations Committee is taking a critical step towards ensuring all Americans are protected by the Fourth Amendment – their mail, documents on their desks at home, and now their private emails. As the way we communicate with each other has dramatically changed over the past twenty years, our electronic communications laws have not kept pace.”
This is the only the first step, and it remains to be seen if the House at large will be supportive of the amendment. The SEC, which falls under this budget bill, recently campaigned to have the warrant requirement not apply to them. They argue that having to obtain a warrant would impede civil investigations as they can only obtain warrants in criminal investigations. Their plight may fall upon the ears of more sympathetic representatives and put the amendment in danger.
If it manages to pass the House, it will face another challenge in the Senate. There are plenty of senators who support email privacy, but there also plenty with a history of backing privacy eroding legislation. Of course, those same senators might just support this amendment as it doesn’t affect the NSA’s ability to secretly collect emails and other communications without a warrant.