Senate’s email surveillance legislation would make Big Brother get a warrant

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
Font Size:

A key electronic privacy bill designed to modernize the nation’s privacy laws is scheduled for mark up by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning.

Co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 2013 would amend law enforcement’s abilities to search private electronic communications.

If passed, the bill would require law enforcement to seek a warrant to access those communications, regardless of how old they are.

The committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. EST.

Last week, Lee was joined by colleagues in sending a letter to Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller, condemning the agency over its ambiguity regarding the Fourth Amendment and its criminal investigations involving warrantless email surveillance.

“As the legislative process unfolds, we urge the IRS to confirm that it will immediately establish a warrant requirement when it wants to obtain email and other electronic personal correspondence from service providers covered under the ECPA,” said the signees.

“Accordingly, we ask the IRS to provide a timeline for updating all manuals, opinions, and other forms of guidance to remove any ambiguity about IRS’ authority under the ECPA,” they said.

“Americans must be assured their privacy rights are protected,” they said. 

Lee, in a statement, called the IRS’ approach “a clear violation of Fourth Amendment rights,” and said it is “now time to update ECPA to protect Americans.”

The members of Digital Due Process, a coalition of businesses, think tanks and advocacy groups, sent a letter to the members of the committee on Monday, expressing their support for the bill.

“The ECPA Amendments Act would update ECPA in one key respect, making it clear that, except in emergencies, or under other existing exceptions, the government must obtain a warrant in order to compel a service provider to disclose the content of emails, texts or other private material stored by the service provider on behalf of its users,” said the coalition.

They continued on, saying that the new standard would “create a more level playing field for technology.”

Follow Josh on Twitter