Support Grows for House Bill Requiring Warrants for U.S. Agencies to Search Emails

Friday, June 20, 2014
Rep. Kevin Yoder (AP photo)

Republicans and Democrats have come together in the U.S. House on a plan to prevent police from accessing people’s emails without a warrant.


The Email Privacy Act would alter current federal law, dating to the mid-1980s, that allows law enforcement to avoid obtaining a warrant for emails stored for 180 days or more. Instead, a subpoena, which has a lower legal threshold, can be used.


The bipartisan bill, from Representatives Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) and Jared Polis (D-Colorado), stands a good chance of moving forward now that it has attracted support from 218 lawmakers. “Having a majority of house members supporting our bill shows House leadership that the bill would pass … if it was put on the house floor,” Yoder told The Hill.


Even with a majority of members supporting the measure, opponents could stymie a vote.  That’s why supporters are seeking 290 cosponsors, which would give them the power to suspend House rules and vote on it, Yoder said.


Yoder and others say the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (pdf) needs updating to better protect Americans’ rights under the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees physical letters cannot be inspected by police without a warrant. Supporters of the bill include the tech industry and privacy advocates, while some federal agencies object to raising the legal bar for police to pry into emails.


Similar legislation also has been introduced in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the judiciary committee, and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah). That effort has not moved since clearing Leahy’s committee in 2013, but Yoder says that might change with the progress in the House.


“I’m hoping that, if we show momentum, it will give them an opportunity to move their legislation forward,” he said.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Bill Requiring Warrants for Email Searches Hits Magic Number in House (by Kate Tummarello, The Hill)

Bill to Require Warrants to Search Emails Gains Steam in the House (Reuters)

Intelligence Director Clapper Finally Admits NSA Searched Americans’ Emails and Calls without Warrants (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

FBI Shrugs Off Law Requiring Email Warrants (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Congress, at Last Minute, Drops Requirement to Obtain Warrant to Monitor Email (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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