U.S. House passes bill requiring warrants to search old emails

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By Dustin Volz | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The U.S. House of Representatives
voted on Monday to require law enforcement authorities to obtain
a search warrant before seeking old emails from technology
companies, a win for privacy advocates fearful the Trump
administration may work to expand government surveillance
powers.

The House passed the measure by a voice vote. But the
legislation was expected to encounter resistance in the Senate,
where it failed to advance last year amid opposition by a
handful of Republican lawmakers after the House passed it
unanimously.

Technology companies such as Microsoft have lobbied
Congress for years to pass the Email Privacy Act, which updates
a decades-old law to force authorities to first get a warrant to
access emails or other digital communications that are at least
180 days old.

Currently, agencies such as the Justice Department and the
Securities and Exchange Commission only need a subpoena, which
is subject to less judicial oversight than a warrant, to seek
such data from a service provider – a standard that has existed
since the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was
adopted in 1986.

Supporters of the bill passed Monday say it is needed to
update an out of date law conceived and written before the rise
of the commercial internet.

Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and information
security at Google, said in a statement the measure
would “fix a constitutional flaw” in the ECPA. “While there are
disagreements about other aspects of surveillance reform, there
is no disagreement that emails and electronic content deserve
Fourth Amendment protections,” he said.

But some senators, including No. 2 Republican John Cornyn,
last year sought to use the legislation as a vehicle for
amendments that would expand the FBI’s domestic surveillance
capabilities, effectively killing the bill.

Debate over law enforcement access to Americans’ electronic
communications intensified last year when the FBI sought a court
order to make Apple help unlock an encrypted iPhone linked to
one of the shooters behind a deadly attack in San Bernardino,
California.

Privacy advocates have expressed alarm at President Donald
Trump’s ability to expand government spying. The Republican
campaigned on a “law and order” platform that included
suggestions he may want to place some mosques in the United
States under surveillance and maintain a national database on
Muslims.

Microsoft last year filed a federal lawsuit against the
Justice Department over ECPA, alleging that the government’s use
of the law violated the U.S. constitution.

It argued that ECPA is too often used to prevent companies
from notifying its users, sometimes indefinitely, when
investigators pry into emails and other data stored on remote
servers.



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