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House passes bill requiring warrant for email searches

The same bill was passed by the House in 2016 but died in the Senate after attempts to include ways for agencies to avoid the requirement for a warrant.

By Stephen Feller
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill on Monday night to update laws that allow law enforcement to gather email older than 180 days with a warrant. The same bill was passed unanimously in the House in 2016 as well but members of the Senate attempted to insert methods for agencies to skirt the requirement for a warrant and the bill was voted down. Photo by <a class="tpstyle" href="https://pixabay.com/en/apple-macbook-laptop-technology-691323/">Unsplash/Pixabay.com</a>
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill on Monday night to update laws that allow law enforcement to gather email older than 180 days with a warrant. The same bill was passed unanimously in the House in 2016 as well but members of the Senate attempted to insert methods for agencies to skirt the requirement for a warrant and the bill was voted down. Photo by Unsplash/Pixabay.com

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- A bipartisan bill to update privacy laws was unanimously approved by the U.S. House of Representatives that would require law enforcement to get a warrant in order to review citizens' email more than 180 days old -- right now, they don't need one.

The Email Privacy Act was approved by the House on Monday night and would replace the decades old Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which includes a loophole allowing law enforcement to gather older email without permission.

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The update would require law enforcement to get a warrant before requesting email stored on a third party server, updating the 30-year-old ECPA.

The old law was written and approved before the Internet was in common use, let alone when the amount of data -- not just email, but pictures, video and a plethora of other document types -- that people now commonly store on third party servers owned by thousands of companies even existed.

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The Obama administration habitually sought a warrant for email older than 180 days based on their own principle, according to reports, however the law was resubmitted and passed unanimously a second time because of relatively broad-based support for privacy and differences from administration and Justice Department to administration and Justice Department.

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"We can send a strong message to the American people that their privacy matters," Kansas Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder said on the House floor just before the bill sailed through the House.

The bill was unanimously passed by the House last year as well, but hit a brick wall in the Senate after Sens. Jeff Sessions and John Cornyn sought to add amendments that watered down the bill's requirement.

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Both senators added amendments about "emergency" situations where law enforcement could demand data without a warrant and allow national security agencies to collect other types of email-related data without a warrant as well, resulting in senators letting the bill expire before voting on it.

"I hope they've abandoned their tactics of trying to create a surveillance bill out of a privacy bill," Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute, said of Sessions, Cornyn and other senators. "It's critically important to recognize this is something both members of Congress and the American public are demanding."

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