House passes Yoder bill to balance email privacy, ensure public safety

The House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation on Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) introduced to protect email privacy while giving law enforcers resources to ensure public safety.

The Email Privacy Act, H.R. 699, would modernize the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 to establish and enhance privacy measures for electronic communications maintained by third-party service providers.

“Today is a great day for not only the Fourth Amendment advocates who have fought long and hard to move the Email Privacy Act, but also for all Americans, who are one step closer to having private and secure digital communications,” Yoder said after the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill earlier this month.

U.S. Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) said technology has changed dramatically in the years since the Electronic Communications Privacy Act was signed into law.

“As it stands now, law enforcement officials can search some of your electronic communications, including emails, without even needing a warrant,” Walters said. “In the House, we know that laws must keep up with rapidly-changing technology, and we understand that a decades-old law cannot sufficiently protect communications that we did not even use 30 years ago. The legislation the House passed (on Tuesday) provides those much-needed updates and ensures that Americans’ online communications are protected in the same way their paper documents are. I am proud to have cosponsored this legislation and supported its unanimous passage through the House Judiciary Committee.  I was pleased to see it pass the House unanimously, and I urge the Senate to act swiftly to send this bill to the President’s desk to safeguard Americans’ privacy.”

The bill would establish a uniform warrant standard for law enforcers to obtain electronic communications during criminal investigations, and it would maintain current law that delineates what remote computing service providers are subject to warrants.

“This important legislation modernizes our laws to keep pace with 21st century technologies,” U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said. “Technology has changed dramatically since the ECPA was written in 1986, and we must keep our privacy laws current to protect Americans’ Constitutional rights while ensuring our law enforcement has the tools they need to keep the public safe.”

U.S. Rep. French Hill (R-AK) said that there needs to be a balance between the rights of private citizens and the ability of law enforcement officials to protect communities.

“The existing and outdated 1986 law doesn’t meet the standard of privacy the American people expect from their government,” Hill said. “In fact, it is, by today’s standards and technology, a shocking loophole in privacy. Protecting the rights and the safety of the people is a paramount responsibility of Congress, and I am proud we were able to come together on a bipartisan basis to amend current law so that it respects the rights of private citizens without hindering law enforcement’s ability to carry out its critical responsibilities.”

Speaking at the weekly Republican Leadership Press Conference, U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) said that in order to protect the American people’s privacy, which is lynch pin of many other freedoms, the needs of law enforcement must also be balanced.

“This bill codifies the basic tenets of privacy and security to ensure the rights of the American people are upheld,” Jenkins said. “This bill standardizes the warrant process for law enforcement agencies. It clarifies what material is public and what is private. It gives the necessary tools to law enforcement agencies, without compromising the privacy rights of Americans.”

Under current law, emails that are stored for more than 180 days on a third-party server are available to government agencies. The uniform warrant requirement for stored communications under the bill would reverse that.

“(On Tuesday), the House passed important legislation that will protect the American people from excessive government overreach,” U.S. Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) said. “The Email Privacy Act will reform out-of-date laws that have failed to address the technological advancements of the last decade. While many Americans use email on a daily basis now, this was not the case when current privacy law was enacted 30 years ago. This common sense update will afford email communication the same protection already given to phone calls and paper documents.”

Marino introduced the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act, H.R. 1174, which would address law enforcement requests for cross-border data flows.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) also supported the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

“Under current law, the government can access any emails that are more than six months old without a warrant,” Shimkus said. “I think most Americans would be surprised by that, so I am pleased to see the House taking action to protect the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens.”

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) noted that today’s high school students hadn’t even been born when current privacy laws were written in 1986.

“As a result, current law allows the government to access any American’s emails that are over 180 days old without the need for a warrant,” Ribble said. “The Email Privacy Act brings our privacy laws into the 21st century and forces the government to get a warrant to access Americans’ electronic communications, just as they do for other forms of communication.”

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