Sen. Patrick Leahy Introduces ECPA Reform Bill In The Senate

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The House has been unusually proactive early this year in attempting to pass email privacy protections through an updated Electronic Communications Privacy Act. In fact, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing this morning to gather testimonies from Google, law experts, and law enforcement on potential fixes for the ECPA. Now the Senate is finally ready to reveal its bill - authored by the lawmaker who helped write the original bill over 20 years ago.

The Hill reports that Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Mike Lee have introduced the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013 in the Senate today. It doesn't have quite the same ring as Rep. Zoe Logren's bill that was introduced in the House earlier this month, but it will accomplish much the same thing.

In short, Leahy's bill will require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing private emails or other online online communications. Under current law, law enforcement need only submit a subpoena to obtain emails that are more than 180 days old. What's more is that the bill would require law enforcement to notify a user that their online communications were under investigation, but the notification requirement can be delayed with a court order.

"No one could have imagined just how the Internet and mobile technologies would transform how we communicate and exchange information today," said Leahy. “Privacy laws written in an analog era are no longer suited for privacy threats we face in a digital world. Three decades later, we must update this law to reflect new privacy concerns and new technological realities, so that our Federal privacy laws keep pace with American innovation and the changing mission of our law enforcement agencies."

All of this may sound really familiar because it is. Leahy attempted to pass an amendment to the ECPA during the last Congress, but it never went to the floor for a vote before the end of the year. This latest bill gives Leahy a head start on negotiations to hopefully get a bill passed this year.