Senators unveil new bill to protect emails

Lawmakers introduced a bill in the Senate on Thursday to give new protections to people’s emails, documents and other information stored online.

The Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (LEADS) Act would require that police obtain a warrant before being able to search through someone’s emails and other online documents and would also prevent authorities from using a warrant to nab data stored in servers overseas. 

The bill would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which allows police to warrantlessly search through emails and other data in the "cloud" that are at least 180 days old. Critics on both sides of the aisle say the law is horribly out of date. 

"Law enforcement agencies wishing to access Americans' data in the cloud ought to get a warrant,” Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsA simple way to make America even greater is fixing our patent system Ensuring that defense agencies will have access to a community of entrepreneurs and innovators McConnell: 'I don't hear much pressure' to pass bill protecting Mueller from Trump MORE (D-Del.), who introduced the bill along with Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchProminent conservative passes on Utah Senate bid Republicans offer this impossible choice: Tax cuts or senior care Senate GOP running out of options to stop Moore MORE (R-Utah) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerAnother perfect storm: Why we must act before flood insurance runs dry Senators introduce bipartisan gun background check bill Dem PAC bullish on Senate chances MORE (R-Nev.), said in a statement, “and just like warrants for physical evidence, warrants for content under ECPA shouldn’t authorize seizure of communications that are located in a foreign country.”

The LEADS Act is not the only bill to update the ECPA in Congress this year.

In the House, more than half the chamber has signed on as a co-sponsor of the Email Privacy Act — which would require a warrant to search emails but does not address the issue of data stored abroad. Yet the bill has remained stuck in committee for more than a year. A similar measure in the Senate has not moved since passing through the Judiciary Committee last spring.

The issue of data kept on a foreign server has been a major one for Microsoft, which is currently locked in a legal battle with the Justice Department over information stored on one of its data centers in Ireland. The software giant has fought a warrant, claiming that the United States does not have the authority to grab information in another country without permission from that government.

Earlier this summer, Microsoft ran full-page ads in beach spots often frequented by Washingtonians to raise awareness about the case. 

The senators’ new bill would declare that a warrant does not apply to information stored abroad unless it is in an American’s account, and would prevent the government from getting foreign data if it would violate the local country’s law. It would also amend the process for obtaining evidence from a foreign nation.