House Unanimously Passes E-Mail Privacy Act

As expected, the House Wednesday (April 27) passed the E-Mail Privacy Act (HR 699).

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) pointed out that there were over 300 co-sponsors on the bill and praised the cooperation that produced a path forward for the bill. He urged the Senate to take up the bill ASAP.

Rep Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee took note of the fact that disparate points of view from law enforcement, stakeholders and civil society had come together on the bill.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said federal agencies were currently invading the privacy of law-abiding citizens. He seconded Conyers call for swift Senate action.

Following 40 minutes of debate, the bill passed 419 to 0.

The House Judiciary Committee had unanimously approved the Email Privacy Act (EPA) earlier this month, which updates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to, among other things, require the government to get a warrant to access e-mails, social media posts and other online content stored by Internet service providers and other e-mail service providers--like Google.

And in a nod to the permanence of cloud storage, eliminates the 180-day sunset on stored communications. Previously a warrant was not required for communications stored beyond 180 days.

The Software & Information Industry Association applauded passage.

"“For consumers to feel safe with cloud computing, personal data stored remotely must have the same legal protection as data on their own computer," said SII SVP Mark MacCarthy. "House passage of ECPA reform brings us one step closer to leveling the playing field for government access to data stored in the cloud. The House-passed bill includes badly needed updates to ECPA’s 1980s-era provisions and will increase consumer trust hosted IT providers.

“The existing and outdated ECPA statute leaves providers and users with a baffling set of rules that are difficult to apply, especially as more and more information moves to the cloud. Today’s action begins to make important changes to address this, and we commend the leadership of Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte (R-Va.), and bill sponsors Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).”

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.