UPDATE: And it passed.
Last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy said that the Senate Judiciary Committee would be marking up an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The decades old bill allows law enforcement to obtain emails without a warrant as long as said email is 180 days old.
The Hill reports that both the Senate and the House will be taking up their respective email privacy bills today. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be taking a look at Leahy’s bill – S. 607 – that simply requires the police to obtain a warrant when accessing any electronic communication, including email.
In the original announcement of the mark up, Leahy said that ECPA must be updated to counter concerns over the “growing and unwelcome intrusions into our private lives in cyberspace.” Those concerns certainly came to a head earlier this month when documents obtained by the ACLU revealed that the IRS told its agents that they could obtain emails without a warrant. The agency also said that “Internet users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Since then, IRS Commissioner Steven Miller said that his agency always obtains a warrant before searching emails. Miller also said that his agency never snoops through email during civil investigations. It wasn’t exactly reassuring, but an updated ECPA would ensure that the IRS, or any government agency for that matter, would never be able to obtain emails without a warrant.
It should be noted that the House will be making a mockery of itself this week by discussing an update to the ECPA after passing CISPA. The House Judiciary Committee will be discussing whether or not the ECPA should be updated to require that law enforcement obtain a warrant before accessing geolocation data. The irony here is that CISPA, in its current form, would allow mobile carriers to share geolocation data with the government without a warrant. Even if the carrier was found in violation of an updated ECPA, it would enjoy full legal immunity under CISPA.
Even so, we’ll continue to follow both discussions and keep you up to date on any changes. The Senate seems to have made an updated ECPA a priority so we may see a final vote as early as next week. That is, of course, if the Senate doesn’t run into any problems with its current controversial bill – the Marketplace Fairness Act.