Email Privacy Is Number One Issue for House Judiciary: Chairman

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By George Lynch and Anandashankar Mazumdar

The number one issue on the House Judiciary Committee’s legislative agenda is eliminating a provision that allows law enforcement to access consumer emails without a warrant after they are 180 days old, Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) told reporters May 2.

Goodlatte encouraged the Senate to approve the Email Privacy Act ( H.R. 387), which already has passed the House. The Email Privacy Act would overhaul the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) so that a warrant, rather than a court order, would be required for law enforcement access to stored communications. The bill would eliminate language in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) treating e-mails more than 180 days old as abandoned and thus obtainable with a subpoena or court order, rather than a warrant.

The fate of the email law enforcement access bill is uncertain, given the Senate’s failure to act on a similar House-passed measure in the last Congress. It is unclear whether there will be a repeat of attempts in the Senate to add amendments requiring, among other things, that companies build back doors into software to allow for government access.

“We will continue to work with our counterparts on the Senate side” to create a warrant requirement for stored communications in criminal investigations, Goodlatte said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and technology companies, such as Amazon.com Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Facebook Inc., are pushing for updates to ECPA that would require warrants for access to all stored communications. ECPA was enacted in 1986 before the internet age.

The Email Privacy Act passed the House on a voice vote Feb. 6. It passed the House unanimously 419-0 in April 2016 but died in the Senate.

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sponsored the Senate version in 2016, but pulled the bill in the face of a flurry of amendments in the Judiciary Committee.

Neither Lee’s nor Leahy’s offices immediately responded to Bloomberg BNA email and telephone requests for comments.

To contact the reporters on this story: George Lynch in Washington at gLynch@bna.com; Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at AMazumdar@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

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