US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a bill Tuesday amending the 25-year-old Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (EPCA), which he authored, to require the government to obtain a warrant before searching private e-mails and other data stored on an internet cloud. The bill removes the 180-day rule that only requires a warrant to search e-mails that are unopened and stored for less than 180 days.
In 1986, e-mail was only stored on servers briefly before being delivered to the the recipient’s inbox, and e-mail older than six months was assumed to be abandoned. Leahy, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed the need to update the EPCA, passed in 1986, to bring it up to speed with the vast changes in Internet communication.
He made a statement that, at the time, the EPCA was one of the nation’s premier privacy laws:
But, today, this law is significantly outdated and out-paced by rapid changes in technology and the changing mission of our law enforcement agencies after September 11. Updating this law to reflect the realities of our time is essential to ensuring that our federal privacy laws keep pace with new technologies and the new threats to our security.
The American Civil Liberties Union lauded the proposed legislation [press release] as a step forward but said more protections are needed such as stricter reporting requirements to inform the public how the surveillance powers are being used and a suppression remedy to exclude improperly obtained evidence from trial.