Senate pressured to take up email privacy bill after overwhelming House vote

Lawmakers and tech advocates are calling on the Senate to quickly take up an email privacy bill that was overwhelmingly approved by the House this week. 

After years of delay, the House on Wednesday approved the bill 419-0. Lawmakers are hoping the lopsided vote will push the upper chamber to act. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“Now that the House has passed this bill by a vote of 419-0, it’s time for the Senate to act. We urge the Senate to take up and pass this bipartisan, common-sense legislation without delay,” said Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyFBI has no excuse to hide future scandals from American public Live coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report Student rips DeVos at school safety commission for failure to take on guns MORE (D-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Another chance to seek the return of fiscal sanity to the halls of Congress Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril MORE (R-Utah), the two lead co-sponsors of similar legislation in the Senate. 

The bill would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to ensure that law enforcement gets a warrant before forcing technology companies to hand over their customers’ emails or other electronic communications, no matter how old they are. 

A loophole in the current law allows law enforcement to get those emails with a subpoena, rather than a warrant, if they are more than 180 days old. The Justice Department says it no longer uses the power, but advocates want the provision wiped from the books. 

“It reinforces our constitutional rights to privacy by ensuring that police get a warrant before accessing our most sensitive electronic information. We urge the Senate to take up this bill expeditiously and get it to the President for his signature,” the Internet Association said in a statement. 

The trade group counts companies like Google, Dropbox, Facebook and Yahoo among its members. 

The similar Senate bill has 26 co-sponsors but has not advanced out of committee. Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Markets roiled by Trump's new tariff threat | Trump lashes out at Canada over trade | Warren looks to block Trump pick for consumer agency The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Defiant Trump meets with House GOP amid border blowback Republican senator calls for face-to-face with EPA’s Pruitt MORE (R-Iowa) in the past has been sensitive to concerns with the bill raised by law enforcement and civil agencies. 

Ahead of the vote, he gave no timeline for moving the bill, but he noted there is “a lot of interest in taking it up.”

“With more than a quarter of senators co-sponsoring companion legislation, it is time to pass ECPA reform once and for all,” the Digital 4th Coalition said in a statement. 

The group is made up of privacy groups and other organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Heritage Action and Americans for Tax Reform.