The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Thursday for an amendment requiring law enforcement representatives to secure a warrant before reading emails and other electronic messages that are more than six months old.
If passed, the change would make online spying more difficult. Currently, law enforcement require only an administrative subpoena—which doesn’t need a judge’s signature—to read messages that are over 180 days old.
The amendment, authored by committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., was attached to H.R. 2471, a measure to modernize the Video Privacy Protection Act. This act, supported by Netflix, would allow social media users to elect to automatically share online video they have watched.
The law, as it is currently applied, comes out of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in 1986. As the Washington newspaper The Hill notes, lawmakers at the time “failed to anticipate that email providers would offer massive online storage. They assumed that if a person hadn't downloaded and deleted an email within six months, it could be considered abandoned and wouldn't require strict privacy protections.”
Opponents of the amendment, such as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R.-Iowa, believe it will delay law enforcement in time-sensitive crimes, such as kidnapping.
The Senate will vote on the act, and its attached amendment, during its next session, likely after the presidential election in November.
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