While most privacy advocates have been fearing the state of cybersecurity under Trump’s administration, but a bipartisan bill protecting the privacy of individuals has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, called Email Privacy Act (H.R. 387), will require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant in order to gain access to old emails from tech companies.
This, however, isn’t the first time that a bill to update privacy laws of the country has been unanimously passed by the U.S House. The said bill was introduced by Colorado and Kansas representatives Jared Polis and Kevin Yoder respectively and passed by a voice vote. Last year, the same measure was passed in the House but encountered resistance in the Senate, courtesy of a handful of Republican lawmakers. The bill is expected to receive a similar treatment under Trump’s influence to maintain a grip over surveillance.
As the situation currently stands, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) which was adopted in 1986 requires law enforcement agencies to only present a subpoena to gain access to old emails. The said standard is being used until today as the subpoena is subject to less judicial scrutiny than a warrant. And thus, it enables them, namely the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, to make headway into email data if they are more than 180 days old and stored on a third-party server.
Supporters of the said bill, reports Reuters, say that reforms need to be accepted as regulations are completely out of date. These laws were conceived and implemented before the rise of the commercial internet. Only a minor amendment that exploited a loophole in the ECPA to create an exceptional law for ”emergency disclosures.” Thus, privacy advocates are now commending the efforts of individuals who plan to push the envelope of political ignorance for people’s privacy and safety.
When the bill was passed in the House, Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and information security at Google praised the House and said that it was the need of the hour. He said that this measure will help “fix a constitutional flaw” with the ECPA. Speaking on the same, he said,
This Act will fix a constitutional flaw in ECPA, which currently purports to allow the government to compel a provider to disclose email contents in some cases without a warrant, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Email Privacy Act ensures that the content of our emails are protected in the same way that the Fourth Amendment protects the items we store in our homes.
These unjust measures, which haven’t been reformed for decades, has caused friction between the government and technology giants. Some like Microsoft have lobbied Congress for years to pass the Email Privacy Act. Last year, the Redmond giant had filed a lawsuit against the JD saying that the government’s use of the ECPA is in violation of the U.S constitution.
The law sometimes also prohibits these companies from disclosing the subpoena presented to them to the user whose data is being accessed. This was recently the case with Twitter, who disclosed it has received two requests (National Security Letters) to gain access to user info and tweets between a said timeline. We’ll now have to wait and see how the Senate proceeds with regards to this bill being passed in the House by an unanimous vote.