Friday, November 30, 2012

Should police be required to get a warrant before reading your emails? The Senate Judiciary Committee thinks so: it voted unanimously Thursday to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a bill that hasn’t been changed since 1986, to require a warrant for inspection of emails and other digital communications.

Under current law, which wasn’t written with today’s massive hard drives or cloud-based storage in mind, police only need a warrant for emails less than six months old.

The email warrant reform was proposed by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. He believes the ECPA, like a decades-old operating system, badly needs an update in order to keep protecting citizens’ online privacy.

“I hope that all members of the Committee will join me in supporting the effort in Congress to update this law to protect Americans’ privacy,” said Leahy in an earlier statement on the ECPA.

 The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the vote as an “important gain for privacy.”

“We are very happy that the committee voted that all electronic content like emails, photos and other communications held by companies like Google and Facebook should be protected with a search warrant,” said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the ACLU. “We believe law enforcement should use the same standard to search your inbox that they do to search your home.”

Opponents of the change, including the Justice Department, argue that requiring police to get a warrant to examine emails and other electronic communiques, such as Facebook messages, will slow police down and therefore jeopardize investigations.

The committee’s proposed updates to the ECPA was attached to another bill, the Video Privacy Protection Act, which would let online video watchers opt-in to automatically share on social media which videos they choose to watch.