How Congress is Fighting for Email Privacy

In April of 2013 an Electronic Communication Privacy Act amendment was approved. That’s as far as things went. The legislation would have made it necessary for government agencies to acquire a warrant in order to access the email of a private citizen. Since that amendment now seems dead in the water, Congress is trying a different tack.

The idea was to add an amendment into an otherwise general bill that outlines various government agencies and the funding that they receive. As a part of the funding agreement, all of the organizations that receive funding via the bill would then be required to meet certain guidelines. One such guideline, according to the new amendment to the bill, is that email privacy must be respected and the proper channels used in order to obtain a warrant. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that both parties seem to be wholeheartedly supporting this bill.

Lawmakers view it as an extension of fourth amendment rights since our means of communication in modern times is vastly different from how we communicated even just 20 years ago.

Of course, this is only the beginning, and it remains to be seen how far things will proceed. The ECPA amendment looked promising at first too, so no one is holding their breath just yet. There is already opposition to the amendment from the US Securities and Exchange Commission, who want to be excluded from the clause. Their take on it is that their investigations are often civil and not criminal, so the need for a warrant should not apply. If the complaint receives favorable hearing it could endanger the amendment, since everyone will then want to be an exception.

Even if the House passes the bill, it will face formidable opponents in the Senate, where many privacy amendments go to die. Of course, the NSA wouldn’t be restricted by this bill, so maybe it will be viewed as a viable compromise.