Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who represents Verona and the 11th Congressional district in Washington, took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce that he had signed on as a co-sponsor of the Email Privacy Act. The bill seeks to prevent government authorities from gaining access to your email or any data you have stored on the Internet without a warrant. It is a revival of legislation that has failed to be enacted twice since 2013.
Right now, what the government can do with your email is governed by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which dates from 1986–before most people were doing much of anything with email. It did not require authorities to have a warrant. The ECPA was also written before individuals and businesses stored data on the Internet–what some people call “the cloud”–and not on their home or office computer.
— Rodney Frelinghuysen (@USRepRodney) February 8, 2017
Frelinghuysen was one of 138 co-sponsors of the new bill, both Republican and Democrat. Tech firms like Google voiced their support and even the American Civil Liberties Union urged legislators in the House to vote for it (though it had reservations about one aspect). The bill was unanimously approved by the House on Monday night.
To become law, however, the Email Privacy Act must also be approved by the Senate, which is where things bogged down in 2016, when a previous bill was under consideration. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) attached amendments to that version that would have allowed law enforcement to demand emails and data without a warrant in “emergency” situations, potentially expanding government surveillance. On Wednesday, Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General of the United States. During his confirmation hearings, questions were raised about his commitment to respecting privacy and civil liberties. Those concerns led Wired, a news outlet that covers technology and the tech industry, to write Monday that passing the Email Privacy Act “has never been more urgent.”
A Senate version of the Email Privacy Act has yet to be introduced. Predict.Gov has given it a 13% chance of being enacted.