On June 17, efforts to strengthen constitutional protections in the digital age reached a major milestone, with the sponsors of the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 1852) announcing that a majority of the U.S. House had signed on as cosponsors of the legislation. Introduced by Representatives Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and is now cosponsored by a majority of Republicans in the House as well as a majority of the Judiciary Committee.
The legislation would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which currently allows law enforcement agencies to access without a warrant emails that have been stored for more than 180 days and information stored “in the cloud.” As a result, emails and online documents don’t receive the same Fourth Amendment protections as physical letters sent through the Post Office and stored in filing cabinets, which require a warrant to access. ECPA was enacted in 1986 – and has not been modified since to keep pace with people’s use of evolving digital technologies.
TCP is part of the Digital Due Process Coalition, comprising technology companies and privacy groups from across the political spectrum, which strongly supports modernizing the law. Recently, TCP president Virginia Sloan asked a number of House members to consider cosponsoring the bill.
House Judiciary Committee Chair Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) had earlier announced his support for ECPA reform. Yoder said the bill sponsors had been talking with Goodlatte and House leaders about moving the Email Privacy Act forward. A Senate committee passed its version of the legislation last year and officials in the White House also support updating the law.
TCP backs other changes to ECPA as well. In 2011, the Liberty and Security Committee issued a report urging Congress to amend the law to require the government to obtain a warrant based on probable cause in order to access GPS and cell phone location information. However, H.R. 1852 does not address cell phone tracking.