Getting a strong and bipartisan majority in Congress to vote for anything these days is hard enough and it’s much, much rarer still for a majority of all Members of the House to formally co-sponsor a given bill. That distinctive and important milestone — 218 official cosponsors — was reached today, however, by legislation featured in May 30’s “Warrant? Who Needs a Warrant??!!??” H.R. 1852, the “Email Privacy Act,” would finally update the dangerously outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which was written before the advent of widespread personal computing and Internet use. Specifically, for the first time, H.R. 1852 would require that law enforcement and other federal agencies obtain a judicially-issued warrant in order to search our electronic communications and records, just as those authorities now must do with paper files. Incredibly, there is now no such requirement in law for e-mails, texts, documents in the cloud and other electronic information older than six months!
Today’s “half-the House” milestone substantially raises the chances that Speaker Boehner will permit the Email Privacy Act to be brought before the full House for a vote, the positive outcome of which now seems clear. Those odds are upped further by support for H.R. 1852 from FBI Director James Comey (who said in testimony before the House that it “won’t have any effect on our practice”) and by the constellation of civil society groups (ALA among them), business trade associations and many others (see links below) that have been clamoring for its passage since the bill’s introduction last spring.
BUT, in true Washington “Through the Looking Glass” fashion, the Securities and Exchange Commission (you read that correctly) has dug in its heels to fight H.R. 1852. The SEC insists that — notwithstanding support for ECPA modernization by criminal law enforcement authorities — their needs to police the financial system with civil penalties should trump the Fourth Amendment rights online and in the cloud of every American! More than 80% of us beg to differ!
ALA and scores of its coalition partners will keep the pressure on for the Email Privacy Act to be voted on, once and for all, very soon. Then it will be on to the Senate, where a companion bill by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy already has been introduced and is gaining steam. Stay tuned to DD for how you can help!
Other Related Blog Posts on Today’s “218” Milestone