The United States House of Representatives on April 27, 2016, unanimously sanctions a bill which demands that U.S. authorities must obtain a court warrant before they could obtain e-mail records and data stored in cloud-based platforms.
By this move, the Email Privacy Act effectively relaxes a subsisting law during the presidency of President Ronald Reagan that permits authorities to access e-mail records and data from service providers without a search warrant as long as the message or data is at least 180 days (six months) old. The 1986 e-mail privacy law, espoused when CompuServe held sway, regarded cloud-stored e-mail and other documents older than six months to be derelict and suitable to be acquired without a warrant.
Having been passed by the House, this new bill now proceeds to the Senate, where its likelihood of passage is somewhat uncertain. Recall that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has for years deliberated and passed similar legislation which never saw the light of the day. As usual, for this bill to become a law, President Barack Obama must append his signature. However, given that Mr. Obama leaves office in January, 2017, it’s doubtful he can sign the bill before his presidency runs out.
The aforementioned bill approved on Wednesday was said to have been co-sponsored by more than 300 Representatives across the political parties. A proviso requiring that the target of the warrant be notified about the warrant was expunged from the bill. The likes of Google and many other corporations already demand one because of changing guide as to whether a warrant is required or not.
Just as warrants are needed for physical papers and properties, the bill also stipulates that warrants are needed for all online documents and other private electronic documents, pictures. However, National Security Letters, which have seen hundreds of thousands issued so far, are exempted in the Bill passed by the House.
United States government establishments such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) vigorously buttonholed against the measure, preferring it to be removed from the law. The SEC argued this stipulation would make its job of monitoring securities fraud very challenging. However, the House version did not succumb to the takes of the SEC.
Privacy campaigners are said to be guardedly enthusiastic about the measure’s passage in the House of Representatives.
Sophia Pope, a staff attorney with advocacy group – the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said, “while we applaud the passage of H.R. 699, the bill isn’t perfect. In particular, the Email Privacy Act doesn’t require the government to notify users when it seeks their online data from service providers, a vital safeguard ensuring users can obtain legal counsel to fight for their rights,”. She went further to say, “however, companies may continue to provide notice to users of government requests—prior to compliance—something many companies commit to in our annual Who Has Your Back report.”
In conclusion, corporations such as Amazon and Yahoo amongst others supported the measure despite it not achieving “all of the reforms they anticipated.”
Written by: Don Okereke
Author Bio: Don Okereke is a seasoned, technology and social media-savvy security consultant, ex-serviceman, voracious reader, writer, blogger and public speaker with nearly 20 years combined experience distilled from Nigeria and the United Kingdom. Don is passionate about cybersecurity, open-source intelligence, researching, gathering, disseminating information and rendering altruistic service to humanity. He is the publisher/editor-in-chief of www.donokereke.blogspot.com through which he disseminates cutting-edge security, safety, threat alerts, and passionately advocates against violent extremism and crime.
Follow Don on Twitter: @donokereke