Tech giants demand vote on email privacy bill

Google, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo and scores of other technology titans are demanding congressional leaders allow a vote on a bill to grant new privacy protections to people’s emails.

The companies want a vote on the Email Privacy Act, a bill that counts more than half of the House as co-sponsors. The bill has yet to move since it was introduced last summer, and a companion measure in the Senate is also awaiting action.

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The legislation would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which allows police to conduct warrantless searches of people’s emails and other information stored on the “cloud” that are more than 180 days old. Critics on both sides of the aisle say the law is antiquated and undermines people’s privacy.

The bill “would aid American companies seeking to innovate and compete globally,” wrote more than 70 companies, trade groups and organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union. “It would eliminate outdated discrepancies between the legal process for government access to data stored locally in one’s home or office and the process for the same data stored with third parties in the Internet ‘cloud.’”

“Removing uncertainty about the standards for government access to data stored online will encourage consumers and companies, including those outside the U.S., to utilize these services,” they added in the letters, which were sent to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Congressional supporters of the bills have said they have been delayed by lawmakers’ attempts to attach other provisions to the legal update. The Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies have also voiced opposition to the bill because it relies on subpoenas instead of warrants to get information.

Advocates say the legislation is one of the few non-essential bills that could get a vote this year, despite the shortened legislative calendar and the midterm elections in November.

Recent events highlighting the vulnerabilities of data stored on the cloud — such as the recent hacking of celebrities' intimate photos stored on Apple's iCloud — may help raise awareness of their argument. 

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