New Law Would Require Warrants for Emails
A Senate committee is considering a piece of legislation that would require police to obtain a warrant before reading a citizen's emails.
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A year-old idea to require U.S. police to obtain warrants before searching old emails will get a second look soon. On Nov. 29, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a markup session on the idea, which has been added as an amendment to a House bill, the Hill reported.
Right now, police need only to swear email access would help an investigation to obtain a subpoena that allows them to read opened emails or emails sent more than 180 days ago. Unlike a warrant, the subpoena doesn't require a judge's approval.
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) originally proposed the idea in May 2011, Wired reported. At the time, Leahy said in a statement that current laws around police reading emails are outdated. They don't take into account advances such as Gmail, Google's free email service that was the first to offer enormous amounts of storage space and encouraged users to keep important emails indefinitely, the Hill reported.
Current email-reading law was encoded in 1986 as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which Leahy authored. Lawmakers in the '80s assumed that people would download, save and delete the original copy of important emails; other messages left in an inbox after six months "could be considered abandoned," the Hill reported.
Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to challenge Leahy's amendment, the Hill reported.
"I have heard concerns about this amendment from state and local law enforcement officials," Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) said in a statement in September. "Specifically, I have heard concerns about how this could impact cases where time is of the essence, namely kidnapping and child abduction cases. Further, I have heard concerns from the executive branch that these changes could adversely impact ongoing operations. "
In September, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to add the legislation to H.R. 2471, which deals with sharing video-watching data online.