The privacy of Americans’ email has an expiration date.
Because of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)—passed in 1986, long before electronic communications became prevalent in the United States—email content is easily accessible to many civil and law enforcement agencies as soon as it is at least 180 days old.
Fortunately, politicians on both sides of the aisle are now backing the movement to change the outdated law.
The Email Privacy Act, which is up for a vote in the House of Representatives, would remove the expiration date on privacy.
“The federal government is using an arcane 1986 law to conduct warrantless searches of the personal email accounts and other digital communication of the American people,” Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., co-sponsor of the legislation, saidin February. “The last time Congress updated our email privacy laws, we were two years removed from the release of the first Macintosh computer. It’s time Congress modernized these outdated statutes to ensure that the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment extend to Americans’ email correspondence and digital storage.”
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects Americans from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and those who support reforming the ECPA believe allowing civil agencies and law enforcement to access older data is a violation of that right. Something that happened six months ago could obviously have significant relevance to someone’s privacy, and giving agencies carte blanche to access the information means everyone’s front door could be, in a relatively short time, blown wide open.
“There’s a simple reason why the Email Privacy Act is the most sponsored bill in Congress,” Gabe Rottman of the American Civil Liberties Union told Truthdig. “Americans overwhelmingly believe email should be protected by a warrant, just like a phone call or snail-mail letter.”