Financial regulators like your emails, but they don’t like warrants

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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A proposal to allow the Securities and Exchange Commission to search through private emails without obtaining a warrant could emerge on Capitol Hill as soon as Friday, The Daily Caller has learned.

Financial regulators could soon see a legislative proposal as soon as Friday that would grant the agency special privileges during civil investigations to avoid a warrant requirement when searching through stored electronic communications such as email.

The SEC has lobbied over the past several months for permission to read electronic communication in certain civil cases. Movement on a proposal in the Senate is expected to take place soon that would exempt the agency from needing a warrant in civil investigations.

A source with knowledge of the discussions told The Daily Caller that a proposal amending the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) that would allow the SEC a “civil warrant” exception could emerge from Republican Senator Chuck Grassley’s office on Friday.

The Senate is currently considering a bill, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013, that would modernize the ECPA. The House Appropriations Committee recently passed an amendment to its own version 0f ECPA-updating legislation, co-sponsored by Republican Congressmen Kevin Yoder, Tom Graves and Jared Polis, that would require all federal agencies to obtain a warrant before searching through private emails.

When asked by The Daily Caller about such a proposal regarding the SEC, Grassley spokesperson Beth Levine said discussions were “ongoing.”

“Staff discussions are ongoing about language to preserve the SEC’s ability to enforce the law in limited situations and protect investors and the public from fraud, but nothing has been finalized,” said Levine.

“In addition, Senator Grassley has authorized a hotline to determine if there are other concerns from members that need to be addressed,” she said.

The SEC declined The Daily Caller’s request for comment.

The agency is not alone in its desire to expand its ability to read emails without a warrant. Documents first obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union suggested that the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI have also interpreted electronic privacy laws to allow agents to skirt warrant requirements during investigations.

Following an uproar over the IRS documents, then-acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller told a Senate committee in April, “In the criminal context, we seek a warrant in advance.”

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