House Committee Backs Stronger Email/Data Privacy

On Thursdaynight, the House Appropriations Committee unanimously agreed to raise the bar for government access to emails, texts and data stored in the cloud. 

The committee adopted language to the 2018 appropriations bill that would require the government to obtain a warrant for such web content, rather than simply a subpoena. 

That came in a manager's amendment offered by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), who was essentially adding language from his standalone Email Privacy Act, which passed the House unanimously in February but has not moved in the Senate.

“Combined with the Senate’s lack of urgency on digital privacy issues, the disturbing news that the SEC has begun subpoenaing emails in contravention of [legal precedent] means we have to act,” Yoder said. “Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their emails and text messages, and if the Senate and the SEC refuse to recognize that, Republicans and Democrats in the House will work together to force their hand by adding this language to our must-pass spending bill." 

The contravention reference was to the SEC effort to get emails from Yahoo for an account of the defendant in a securities fraud case. 

A version of the email privacy bill, which boosts protections of information stored in the cloud, passed the House unanimously in the last session of Congress in April 2016, and supporters were hoping for clean passage in the Senate then as well. But it was held over by the Senate Judiciary Committee after amendments were offered that could have undone a compromise approach. 

The Software & Information Industry Association was rooting for a different outcome this time around.

“This amendment levels the playing field for access to remotely stored communications, which is a critical part of the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 387) that was unanimously passed by the House earlier this year," said SIIA senior VP Mark MacCarthy. "There is a serious need to protect email and other private communications from agency overreach. Congratulations to Rep. Yoder and the Appropriations Committee for their leadership on this issue. We’re delighted the Appropriations Committee agrees on this important issue, and we urge the Senate to follow their footsteps on both fronts.” 

(Photo via Luckey Sun's FlickrImage taken on April 21, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.