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Massive Spending Bill Has New Silicon Valley Privacy Protections

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Congress snuck a provision into the 2,000 page omnibus spending bill that protects Silicon Valley from judge-less subpoenas for customers’ emails.

The measure, which will be voted on Friday, will continue to let federal bureaucrats get Americans’ bank account numbers, phone call records and emails without a warrant.

Advocates of the Email Privacy Act, introduced by Kansas Republican Rep. [crscore]Kevin Yoder[/crscore], claim this bill is a much-needed step to protect Americans’ private communications.

What the bill’s more than 300 congressional sponsors aren’t talking about, however, is how the bill allows financial service agencies to continue subpoenaing bank account numbers, credit card numbers and phone call records from Internet service providers without first getting a warrant approved by a judge.

The bill’s advocates also aren’t mentioning that their measure allows federal agencies to get private emails from individual Americans using an administrative subpoena — something individuals and small companies have a hard time fighting, and so, usually don’t. Administrative subpoenas don’t get prior probable cause reviews by a judge.

Current law allows federal agencies to subpoena companies for users’ emails after an email is 180 days old.

The Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenas individuals “all the time for their email,” as Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said earlier this month at a House Committee on the Judiciary hearing on Yoder’s bill.

Yoder’s original version of the bill applied to all federal agencies, but he tailored it to apply to just financial service agencies — the SEC, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service — to tuck it into the spending bill. Other versions of Yoder’s bill that apply to all federal agencies have been introduced in Congress but are moving slowly through the legislative grinder.

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