Saturday, May 21, 2016
Billy Long: I am proud to support E-Mail Privacy Act
If I were to go on a radio show or TV newscast and you heard me bragging about a proposed bill that would allow the federal government to read your emails, texts, or other electronic conversations unabated, most Americans would be enraged that their privacy was being infringed upon, along with their Fourth Amendment rights being trampled on.
Fortunately, you will never find me supporting a bill of that nature, and I fully believe that every American would have the right to be outraged if such legislation came to pass. However, until recently, the latest policy to balance Americans’ privacy expectations and legitimate law enforcement needs with regard to the internet was the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 – a decades-old complex statute for overseeing the collection of vital electronic evidence in myriad investigations.
Unlike 1986, email is now a staple of Americans’ everyday private and professional lives – not to mention the roles online platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, or cloud computing have played in shaping the modern world. So, as one could easily imagine, the gap between this law and present day has resulted in lacking protections for Americans’ privacy that strike at the heart of our Fourth Amendment.
Most notably, your state and federal law enforcement investigators are currently allowed to access emails that are 180 days old or older without a warrant. You’d be hard-pressed today to find someone who didn’t have at least one email that old, and it would defy common sense for any government agency to believe that an arbitrary threshold like that would take precedent over individual privacy. The government deems your old emails as ‘abandoned,’ and are taking the stance that they can therefore read them without a warrant.
This April, House members spanning both sides of the aisle resoundingly passed the Email Privacy Act, which modernizes the ECPA so that it can keep pace with rapidly-evolving innovation that defines modern technologies.
Most importantly, the Email Privacy Act sets a uniform warrant standard for law enforcement officials to access this content during criminal investigations. These warrants are to be executed through digital service providers – who store the data – which are able to notify customers of receipt of a warrant, court order, or subpoena as would be expected unless a court order delays that notification.
This bill also sets new standards for law enforcement to access public information. Previously, there was no statutory difference between private and public online information – emails and text messages versus a widely seen website banner advertisement, for instance. Now, clear boundaries have been set between the two that eliminate unnecessarily time-consuming processes for investigative officers to access already widespread commercial content, while raising the standards of obtainment for individual Americans’ private electronic communications.
Anytime a bill like the ECPA is so outdated that it begins to infringe on our nation’s most cherished principles of liberty and privacy, fixing it should become a top priority. I am proud to have supported this legislation’s much-needed reforms that finally match modern technological innovation, and which will now balance America’s online privacy expectations and law officials’ needs in-step with the constitutionally protected rights of every citizen.