House to Vote on Email Privacy Act

The House is scheduled to vote Monday evening on the Email Privacy Act, according to Senate majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a bill that would protect data in the cloud.

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

The baseline bill updates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require the government to get a probable cause criminal warrant to access emails, social media posts and other online content stored in the cloud by internet service providers and email service providers, like Google. In a nod to the longevity of cloud storage, it eliminates the 180-day sunset on stored communications. Previously a warrant was not required for communications stored beyond 180 days.

Consumer technology companies were urging the House to pass the bill, which it said was crucial to boosting privacy protections.

"The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, written before Congress, could imagine U.S. citizens' sharing and storing personal information on third-party servers, is woefully out of date," said Consumer Technology Association president Gary Shapiro. "Quick action is needed to protect the privacy rights of U.S. citizens and properly regulate government access to private communications stored by third parties. The House of Representatives has an opportunity to act now by passing the Email Privacy Act, requiring the federal government to acquire a warrant prior to accessing emails and other forms of digital communications – the same standard applied to our physical mail.

"We applaud Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Jared Polis (D-CO) for introducing the Email Privacy Act and urge his colleagues to advance this critical legislation."

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.