Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Email Privacy Act to protect citizens’ online communication from government surveillance. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler is a co-sponsor of this legislation that would extend the same privacy protections to electronic communications that exist for hard mail and other personal, paper documents. Under this bipartisan bill, a government agency would not be able to access a U.S. citizen’s emails without a court-ordered search warrant.
In recent years, federal agencies have stated that they don’t believe private citizens’ emails and electronic messages should be protected, with the IRS saying that Americans “do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in (online) communications.” Such communication would include emails, text messages, private or protected messages on Facebook and Twitter, and other electronic communications federal agencies could obtain from third party service providers.
Under current law, government and law enforcement agencies can obtain emails more than six months old from internet service providers without a judge’s approval. The Email Privacy Act updates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was passed in 1986, to remove this time limitation. Government agencies would be required to obtain a search warrant no matter how old the communication.
“Technology has transformed the way we communicate in the past 30 years and our laws need to reflect that to adequately protect citizens and their privacy,” said Jaime. “Whether their communications are on their desk at home or in the cloud, individuals have a right to privacy under the Constitution. Citizens deserve greater assurances that their privacy will be respected by the federal government – and this bill is a good start.”