Feds may have to tell you when they are spying on you

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The federal government may soon have to notify you if it has been spying on your emails.

The Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly approved the passage of the Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act of 2013 (ECPA) — cosponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee — during a committee meeting Thursday, moving the bill forward to be considered by the full Senate next week.

Leahy made the modernization of the ECPA a top priority for the year, as part of an effort to help keep the nation’s privacy laws up to pace with the technological innovations since the ECPA was first passed in 1986.

The revisions to the bill would make it so that law enforcement would be required to obtain a warrant to access stored electronic communications, including email and text messages, regardless of the age of the message. Under the current law, a warrant isn’t required if the message is 180 days old or more.

The Leahy-Lee bill would also require the federal government to notify an individual within 10 days of obtaining a search warrant.

“When I led the effort to write ECPA 27 years ago, email was a novelty,” Leahy said. “Three decades later, we must update this law so that the law protects our privacy rights and keeps pace with innovation and the challenging mission of law enforcement.”

Technology business groups — including TechAmerica, the Business Software Association, the Internet Association and the Computer and Communications Industry Association — applauded the committee’s advancement of the bill.

The Internet Association, an industry trade group that calls itself the “unified voice of the Internet economy,” called the move a “significant step in safeguarding the privacy of users’ electronically stored content.”

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