Email privacy blitz unites Amazon, Grover Norquist

Major technology companies and advocacy groups are rushing to urge “speedy consideration” of legislation to add new legal protections to people’s emails.

Companies from Amazon to eBay to Facebook joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and dozens of others in sending letters demanding Congress finalize a bill to require that officials get a warrant before searching people’s old emails or other items stored digitally on the cloud.

{mosads}“Because of all its benefits, there is an extraordinary consensus around … reform — one unmatched by any other technology and privacy issue,” they wrote in a letter Thursday to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

Passing a bill “sends a powerful message — Congress can act swiftly on crucial, widely supported, bipartisan legislation,” they wrote. “Failure to enact reform sends an equally powerful message — that privacy protections are lacking in law enforcement access to user information and that constitutional values are imperiled in a digital world.”

Under current law, which was passed in 1986, law enforcement agencies do not need a warrant to obtain any emails or other online documents that are at least 180 days old.

Privacy advocates have long urged for Congress to update that law to keep pace with changes in technology.

Last year, legislation to require a warrant for all emails and other digital documents received 272 co-sponsors in the House, well more than the 218 necessary for a majority. Still, that House bill failed to even get a committee vote.

Supporters of reform have blamed the holdup on agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, which obtains information through subpoenas and might have a harder time pursuing investigations if required to get a warrant.

“This should not be permitted,” companies and groups wrote in their new letter.

Authors of the previous privacy bills — Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) — are expected to reintroduce their legislation in coming weeks. 

Tags ECPA Electronic Communications Privacy Act Email privacy Kevin Yoder Mike Lee Patrick Leahy

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