Updating an E-Mail Law From the Last Century

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to include private email as protected from law enforcement surveillance without a warrant.

According to The New York Times:

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a measure that would require the government to get a search warrant, issued by a judge, to gain access to personal e-mails and all other electronic content held by a third-party service provider. The bill still needs the approval of the full Senate.

The current statute requires a warrant for e-mails that are less than six months old. But it lets the authorities gain access to older communications — or bizarrely, e-mails that have already been opened — with just a subpoena and no judicial review.

The law governs the privacy of practically everything entrusted to the Internet — family photos stored with a Web service, journal entries kept online, company documents uploaded to the cloud, and the flurry of e-mails exchanged every day. The problem is that it was written when the cloud was just vapor in the sky.