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.
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.