The Senate Judiciary Committee has before it a bill that proponents hope will not only increase protection of personal privacy, but will also bring some order and consistency to a conflicting patchwork of laws and judicial decisions about the government's reach into personal data stored in electronic records.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would amend the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require a search warrant, rather than a subpoena, to search data stored in what is commonly called a "cloud" of electronic records, including e-mails, text messages, and documents stored on Internet sites like Google. The proposed amendment to the 26-year-old law would require police to obtain a warrant for all e-mail searches, the New York Times reported, changing a provision of the law that allows warrantless searches of e-mails more than 180 days old.
The amendment would be the first major change to the statute after more than a quarter century in which both the means of electronic communications and the capacity for storage of them has increased dramatically. An update and a tightening of the requirements for a search are long overdue, Greg Nojeim, senior counsel and director of the Center for Democracy & Technology's Project on Freedom, Security & Technology, told NBC News.
"Requiring a warrant for email and other information stored in the cloud would provide privacy to consumers, certainty to law enforcement, and clarity to the companies that receive law enforcement demands," Nojeim said. The American Civil Liberties Union is also supporting the amendment.
"We believe the statute is very out of date," said Christopher Calabrese, ACLU legislative counsel. "All email and all private communications should be covered by a warrant" and not just a subpoena, he said.
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