The government needs a warrant to search your home or listen to your phone calls and, soon, it may also need one to view your old email.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday unanimously voted to pass the Email Privacy Act, which requires law enforcement to get a warrant before obtaining online communications older than 180 days from technology companies. Under current law, emails that old are considered abandoned.
Does that sound a bit dated? That’s because the current Electronic Communications Privacy Act was enacted in 1986. The bipartisan Email Privacy Act, which tech companies such as Microsoft have long lobbied for, seeks to modernize it.
This isn’t the first time the act has been introduced, however. Last year, it passed the House but failed to make it past the Senate. One of its main opponents was President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions.
Under President Obama, the Justice Department still sought warrants for old email and other online data, telling the Huffington Post that current law “failed to keep up with the development of technology.”
With Sessions at head of the department, however, it’s unclear if this practice will be continued. In 2016, he proposed an amendment to the act that would require tech companies to disclose data to the government under emergencies.
Session still holds his seat in Senate until he is approved as attorney general, and it’s unclear whether the Senate will pass the act this year. Rep Jared Polis, D-Colo., who authored the act with Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., hopes its success in House propels it through Congress, however.
“By passing this law unanimously, it’s crystal clear that Americans expect privacy protections for their emails,” Polis said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable that while technology has progressed from the floppy disk to the cloud, email privacy laws remain stuck in a decade where dial-up Internet was the standard. The Email Privacy Act will update these archaic laws for the 21st century, and protect Americans’ right to privacy. The public shouldn’t have to wait any longer for basic privacy protections to be applied to their emails.”