Email Privacy Act Introduced to House

Under the new act, the government would have to obtain a warrant from a court before asking providers to disclose the contents of emails regardless of how long the communications had been held in electronic storage.

by Francis Scarcella, The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa. / April 6, 2016

(TNS) -- While you are reading this, a governmental agency, possibly the IRS or FBI, could be reviewing emails that have been sitting in your private email box for longer than 180 days.

That's no joke, according to U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta, R-11, of Hazleton, Pa., and Tom Marino, R-10, of Cogan Station, Pa.

The congressmen are co-sponsors of the Email Privacy Act, which they expect to become law soon. An amendment to the bill would require a search warrant from a judge to access older emails.

"Federal law has not kept up with technology or the way millions of people use their email. When the law was written 30 years ago, Congress thought that everyone would have a home email server like Hillary Clinton," Barletta said. "Obviously, that's not true, and millions of us use gmail, Yahoo or some other third-party email service. What this bill does is treat all of those emails the same, no matter how old they are."

Governmental agencies have been able to scour through emails of Americans whenever they wish thanks to the 1986 Electric Communications Act passed by Congress. The law considers emails older than 180 days abandoned and subject to search. All an agency has to do is contact the email provider and request a copy of the messages.

Under the new act, the government would have to obtain a warrant from a court before asking providers to disclose the contents of emails regardless of how long the communications had been held in electronic storage or whether the information is sought from an electronic communication service or a remote computing service.

The new law also would require a law enforcement agency, within 10 days after receiving the contents of a customer's communication, or a governmental entity, within three days, to provide the customer whose communications were disclosed by the provider with a copy of the warrant and a notice that such information was requested by and supplied to the government.

"Government will need a warrant or a subpoena to look at them -- otherwise, the IRS could be reading your old emails right now without your knowledge," Barletta said. "We will be treating emails just like regular mail, and government can't just go snooping around without going to court. This bill is a victory for privacy and Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches, and I am proud to be a co-sponsor."

The bill also is co-sponsored by 314 members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats.

"The Email Privacy Act fixes a loophole used by the government to gain access to someone's email. With today's inboxes holding thousands upon thousands of emails, these messages should no longer be considered 'abandoned,'" Marino said. "The current telecommunications laws are out of date, and the Email Privacy Act would garner more protection for American citizens by requiring a warrant to gain access to these emails."

The judiciary committee will consider the bill during the week of April 11. There could be amendments to the language, and Marino said he is waiting to see changes before he decides whether to support the amended bill in committee.

©2016 The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.