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House Pushed to Vote on Privacy Bill

Congress is getting pressure to pass a bill that would make it harder for the government to access emails, texts and other online communications, including from the legislator who proposed it.

The Digital 4th Coalition (ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform and others) has joined with other privacy advocates to call for passage of H.R. 699, the Email Privacy Act.

Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) are lead sponsors on the bill, which would change the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to require a warrant before ISPs would have to disclose the contents of email communications.

The bill has 281 cosponsors according to Yoder, who pushed Friday for a vote. That is clearly enough to pass the House.

“When ECPA was written, the Internet as we understand it did not exist. Only 340,000 Americans even subscribed to cell phone service," Yoder told a House Judiciary Committee audience Friday. "Mark Zuckerberg was only two years old. But as our society and technology has evolved, our digital privacy laws remain stuck in 1986. With our bill now receiving the distinction of the most-cosponsored bill yet to be considered by the House, the time has arrived to fix that."

Digital 4th says the only reason the bill has been held up is by those who want to be able to access ISP records without a warrant.

This legislation has seemingly been held up by only one issue – an effort to allow civil regulators to demand, without a warrant, the content of customer documents and communications directly from third party service providers. This should not be permitted. Such warrantless access would expand government power; government regulators currently cannot compel service providers to disclose their customers’ communications."

They argue that would be an expansion of government power and should not be allowed.

Other backers of the Email Privacy Act include Microsoft, Google and eBay, as well as Dish, Aereo, Sprint and T-Mobile.

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.