Feds will need a search warrant to read your email if new bill passes

The government will soon need a search warrant to go through your e-mail, if a bipartisan bill introduced on Tuesday in the Senate passes.

The government will soon need a search warrant to go through your e-mail, if a bipartisan bill introduced on Tuesday in the Senate passes.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and Republican Sen. Mike Lee from Utah proposed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013--try saying that three times fast--which will require government officials to obtain search warrants to search e-mail or other electronic communications.

The bill would also require officials to notify individuals that their e-mail accounts will be searched within 10 days of obtaining the warrant.

Currently, the government take warrantless looks at e-mails or other forms of online communications that are more than 180 days old. All law enforcement officials have to do is show reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, enough to subpoena the service provider for your information. The most updated law governing e-mail privacy was passed in 1986, when it was thought that e-mails wouldn't be saved for very long.

Email never dies

"When ECPA was enacted, email was primarily a means of communicating information, not storing it," Lee said in a statement. "Today, we use our email accounts as digital filing cabinets, where we store many of the personal documents and sensitive information that the Fourth Amendment was meant to protect. This bill takes an essential step toward ensuring that the private life of Americans remains private."

E-mail service providers have fought to protect users' privacy, but there's only so much they are legally able to do until laws are amended.

This isn't the first time Leahy has proposed amending the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which, coincidentally, he authored. The Senate Judiciary Committee has heard reform proposals twice in the last two years; in November, it approved reforms nearly identical to those included in the bill proposed on Tuesday, but the legislation didn't go anywhere.

Leahy in January said he was committed to reforming the ECPA during this session Congress.

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