On February 4, a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators introduced legislation in the U.S. House and Senate requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before accessing emails or documents stored in the cloud. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act of 2015 in the Senate, with six additional cosponsors. Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) are chief sponsors of the bill in the House, which already has 228 cosponsors, more than half of the members of that chamber.
“It is time for Congress to recognize that the Fourth Amendment applies to online communications. We should not enjoy less legal protection when we choose to communicate by email or store records in the cloud than when we send a letter by snail mail or put it in a desk drawer at home,” said TCP President Virginia Sloan in a press release.
The companion bills would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a 1986 law that 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. Once the legislation is signed, law enforcement agents would still be able to seek electronic communications as evidence in criminal investigations and prosecutions, but only when they can establish probable cause and obtain a warrant.
On January 22, a broad coalition of 70 technology companies, trade associations and privacy groups, including The Constitution Project, urged quick consideration of warrant-for-content legislation. TCP is part of the Digital Due Process Coalition, which strongly supports modernizing ECPA to keep pace with changing technology.