That’s right, if you did not know before, US law enforcement officials have previously been free to access emails and cloud storage dating back to 1986. It is unbelievable that in our day in age Congress actually has to pass new laws such as this and the situation only speaks to how rampant domestic spying on behalf of the United States government has been. But late last week Congress took a step in the right direction and in “a rare unanimous vote” passed the new law which will require government officials to obtain search warrants from a judge before they are allowed to access citizens email and/or cloud data-base storage accounts.
The bill is called the Email Privacy Act and it “amends the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 to prohibit a provider of remote computing service or electronic communication service to the public from knowingly divulging to a governmental entity.” Furthermore, the law “requires the government to obtain a warrant from a court before requiring providers to disclose the content” and requires the government, within a period of 10 days, to send a written notice to a person who’s information was viewed. The bill also takes away companies responsibility to disclose customer information when presented with a “civil discovery subpoena“, the primary tool governments had previously used to exploit the system and obtain information.
The bill was passed Wednesday April 27 by a margin of 419 -0, the legislation itself received an unprecedented bipartisan level of support with 319 co-sponsors. When the bill was opened up to the floor for discussion, 10 representatives spoke on its behalf and zero spoke in opposition. Prior to April 27th all law enforcement officials needed to access emails and cloud storage was a subpoena – which legally does not have to be reviewed by a court/judge. These laws have existed unchanged since 1986 when it would have been incomprehensible to fathom the extent to which emails and technology are used today. Pending of the approval of the US Senate, these laws will soon go into effect. Seeing as there was not one person in the House to vote in opposition of this bill, it is expected to easily pass through the Senate as well.
As PCWorld has reported, one of the bills sponsors Representative Jared Polis stated the passage of the bill is a “victory for all Americans who believe in the right to privacy“. The American Library Association and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) have both praised the House for passing the Email Privacy Act. As one representative for SIIA Mark MacCarthy stated “for consumers to feel safe with cloud computing, personal data stored remotely must have the same legal protection as data on their own computer. The House vote brings us one step closer to leveling the playing field for government access to data stored in the cloud.”
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