Passes bill to give email same search protections as snail mail

The House has overwhelmingly (351 to 66) passed the massive defense appropriations bill HR 5515, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019, a bill that includes a data privacy win for tech companies.

In a late-edition amendment, the Email Privacy Act was adopted by voice vote Thursday morning (May 24). The bill, which updates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, requires law enforcement to get a warrant before inspecting emails, texts and other electronic communications stored in the cloud.

The Email Privacy Act, which was pushed through by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) passed the House unanimously last year but got no further.

"We thank the House of Representatives for joining our industry's commitment to protect and empower consumers to create, share and collect electronic data in a secure and private manner - regardless of where it's stored or for how long," said Consumer Technology Association president Gary Shapiro. 

"Under the current rules of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, government officials can bypass search warrant requirements for any data stored in the cloud longer than 180 days," Shapiro added. "This legislation eliminates the different requirements for cloud data, replacing them with a single standard so online communications have the same privacy protections as physical mail. This gives consumers confidence that all personal data is legally and equally protected."

The Senate has not passed its version of the bill, with which the House version must be reconciled, but it was a step forward in securing equal protection for electronic communications from unreasonable searches.

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