US House Passes Email Privacy Act in 419-0 Vote

The US House of Representatives passed an update to the email privacy act last week in an unanimous vote of 419-0. The bill will now move to the Senate.

The bill updates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 and closes a loophole that allowed electronic communications to be obtained without a warrant.

The ECPA has long been criticized by privacy advocates as being outdated, which isn’t hard to imagine as it was passed long before email was one of the most prevalent communications. The loophole allowed law enforcement to use a subpoena, rather than a warrant, to obtain an email older than 180 days, according to a report by Naked Security.

Groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the i2Coalition applauded the passage of the bill. The EFF called it a “win for user privacy” but noted that it still “isn’t perfect.”

“In particular, the Email Privacy Act doesn’t require the government to notify users when it seeks their online data from service providers, a vital safeguard ensuring users can obtain legal counsel to fight for their rights,” the EFF said. “The government should also be required to obtain a warrant when demanding a person’s geolocation data. And if the government does obtain any communications data in violation of the law, courts should have the ability to suppress that evidence in criminal prosecutions.”

“Reforming ECPA has been a policy priority for the i2Coalition since we were founded,” i2Coalition Policy and Board Chair David Snead said in a statement. “We are grateful to the House for taking leadership on this important issue, and call on the Senate to expeditiously follow in their colleague’s footsteps. The unanimous House vote should send a clear message to the marketplace that Congress is listening to our customer’s demands for a warrant for content.”