If it seems like a lot of people are snooping on your private communications these days, it's because those people might actually be doing so. Recently, the House of Representatives passed the Email Privacy Act by a unanimous vote, and the bill is now about to go to the Senate, where there may be some issues to follow.
The Email Privacy Act requires some augmentations to security to protect information stored in the cloud, which often includes but isn't necessarily limited to email. The House actually passed a similar bill unanimously back in April, but when the bill was held over by the Senate Judiciary Committee following some offered amendments, the House seemed to plan to try again, which resulted in the new bill.
Under the terms of the new bill, the government would be required to have a probable cause criminal warrant in order to access non-publicly-available material including emails, but also things like social media posts and other online content. Additionally, the bill applies to all communications, not just those 180 days old or younger; previously, there was no warrant required for communications that were over 180 days old.
Darrell Issa, a California Republican Representative, noted, “If the government wants to read your emails, then they should be required to obtain a warrant just like they would need in order to read your letters, search your hard drive or listen in on your phone calls. “ On the other side of the aisle, Washington Democrat Representative Suzan DelBene noted that “When current law affords more protection for a letter in a filing cabinet than an email on a server, it's clear our policies are woefully outdated.”
The advance of the bill was well-received—TechNet president Linda Moore pointed out how these laws hadn't been updated since 1986—and it's a safe bet that people will approve of actual protections to prevent random snooping, a point that's been in contention since the government released the Patriot Act back in 2001. Though this may not have much measurable impact on everyday people's lives—some might wonder why more isn't being done to rebuild infrastructure, get more jobs in play or reform taxes instead—extra email privacy will be a useful thing to have on hand going forward.
Some might pin the impetus behind this bill on the recent change in the White House, but no matter how one figures this came about, it's a safe bet all our emails are just a little safer as a result. Given how many emails go out and come in from all our various inboxes every day, this is likely good news in the end.
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