Leahy: Cellphone ruling is ‘wake-up call’

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday that police need a warrant to search someone’s cellphone is a “wake-up call” for Congress to act on other kinds of digital privacy, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Wurie and Riley v. California is a wake-up call that we need to update our laws to keep pace with technological advances,” he said in a statement shortly after the high court’s unanimous ruling.

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“Just as the government must now obtain a warrant to look through the contents of our cell phones, I believe the same standard should apply when the government wants to look through our emails.”

Leahy, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) last year introduced the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments, which would require police get a warrant before searching through someone’s old emails.

The original Electronic Communications Privacy Act dates back to 1986 and allows law enforcement agents to look at emails and other documents stored in the cloud as long as they are older than 180 days.

Leahy’s bill “updates our digital privacy laws to keep pace with new technologies, protect civil liberties, and provide guidance to law enforcers,” he said. “Congress should act swiftly to pass this bill and bring our privacy laws into the 21st Century.”

The momentum seems to be on his side.

More than half of the lawmakers in the House have signed on to co-sponsor the House version of the bill, called the Email Privacy Act. Currently, the bill has 220 co-sponsors, and authors Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) have expressed hope that it would move through the chamber quickly. 

In the Senate, however, Leahy’s bill has sat largely dormant since it passed through the Judiciary Committee last year. 

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