House members eye email, location data protection with bill

A trio of bipartisan House members is reintroducing a bill that would require a warrant to obtain someone’s email or location information. 

Reps. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenAbortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Dems aim to elect Conyers replacement on Judiciary this month Conyers resigns amid sexual misconduct allegations MORE (D-Calif.), Suzan DelBeneSuzan Kay DelBeneModernizing NAFTA can benefit American workers A tax reform idea that works for all Americans Dems: GOP tax plan a ‘disaster’ MORE (D-Wash.) and Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSeven Texas lawmakers leaving Congress means a younger, more diverse delegation Clock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers Mounting GOP retirements threaten House majority MORE (R-Texas) on Monday are introducing the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act, which would update a nearly three-decade-old law they say has not kept pace with technology. 

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Lofgren said the update would allow service providers to build more trust with customers and ease some trade concerns. 

"Fourth Amendment protections don't stop at the Internet, and Americans rightly expect constitutional protections to extend to their online communications and location data," Lofgren said. 

The proposal would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which currently allows law enforcement to access email and other electronic content without a warrant if that information is more than 180 days old. Only a subpoena is currently required. 

The law has also created confusion within the court because there are no clear rules on accessing geolocation information, according to the lawmakers.  

“Technology may change, but the Constitution does not,” Poe said in a statement. 

There have been calls among privacy and technology advocates for an update to the law. Other lawmakers are preparing to reintroduce a separate bill, focused specifically on electronic communication. 

That proposal, offered by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) last Congress, gained 272 co-sponsors but failed to get a vote in committee. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) recently said they are preparing companion legislation in the Senate. 

Lofgren’s bill would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing someone’s electronic communication or forcing a service provider to give up a customer’s geolocation data. 

It would also bar the use of geolocation data that was obtained unlawfully and create penalties if law enforcement improperly intercepted or disclosed a customer’s location data.