On April 13, the US House Committee on the Judiciary (the Committee) voted 28-0 to approve the Email Privacy Act (Act), which would, among other things, require federal authorities to obtain a warrant from a judge to access all emails or other digital communications.
The Act would amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (1986 Act), which prohibits providers of remote computing services or electronic communication services from knowingly divulging to government entities the contents of any communication that is in electronic storage or otherwise maintained by a provider, subject to certain exceptions. Under the 1986 Act, as currently in effect, law enforcement and civil agencies may request such communications so long as they are more than 180 days old (and considered abandoned property) with only a subpoena. Unlike warrants, subpoenas can be issued without proof of probable cause. The Act would now require government authorities to obtain a warrant before requiring providers to disclose the content of such communication, regardless of how long the communication has been held in electronic storage.