House members push bill limiting gov access to emails stored overseas

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A proposal to bolster email privacy and set limits on the government’s access to content stored overseas gained support from two House members Friday. 

{mosads}Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) are introducing the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act. The bill is identical to the one introduced in the upper chamber by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) earlier this month. 

A spate of privacy bills have been introduced early this Congress to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant when obtaining users’ emails or other communication stored in the cloud. Currently, only a subpoena is required when obtaining records more than 180 days old. 

The separate Email Privacy Act introduced at the beginning of the month boasts the support of 245 House lawmakers and had broad approval in the Senate. 

But Hatch’s bill, and the companion legislation introduced Friday, would also place restrictions on what kind of information the government can force a U.S. company to hand over when that data is stored overseas.

Under the change, the government could use a warrant to get access only to Americans’ data stored overseas, not from foreigners. But a U.S. company could fight the government order if it would violate the foreign country’s laws. 

“U.S. companies need clear guidelines on when they have to turn over electronic communications to law enforcement if that information is stored abroad. The current uncertainty harms U.S. businesses and their customers, and does not well-serve our foreign relationships,”  DelBene said in a statement. 

While companies like, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, the App Association and about 25 other groups have applauded the move, others have raised concerns about it. A trade group representing companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo has taken issue with the legislation’s focus on where the data is stored, rather than a user’s citizenship. 

The Internet Association, the trade group, warned the bill could inspire host governments to clamp down on their operations and undermine online privacy. The Center for Democracy and Technology also expressed reservations last year.

“The Internet Association believes that an alternative approach focusing rules on a user’s citizenship — rather than where the data is stored — can address these concerns, and we look forward to working with Congress on protecting users and reforming government surveillance,” the group said in a statement earlier this month. 

Not addressing any one concern in particular, Marino said he is open to changes. 

“We expect the bill to evolve as we work with all interesting parties going forward,” Marino said.

Tags Electronic Communications Privacy Act Email privacy Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act Suzan DelBene Technology Tom Marino

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