U.S. Representative Jared Polis

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House of Representatives unanimously passes Polis’s Email Privacy Act

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Washington, February 6, 2017 | comments

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed Rep. Jared Polis’s (D-Colo.) Email Privacy Act (H.R. 387). Co-authored by Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), the bipartisan bill would update federal law to require the government to obtain a warrant before searching Americans’ emails.  In 1986, Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which contained a loophole that allows the government to search Americans’ emails without a warrant if the emails are older than 180 days and stored on a third-party servers, like Google or Yahoo.

“By passing this law unanimously, it’s crystal clear that Americans expect privacy protections for their emails,” said Polis.  “It’s unacceptable that while technology has progressed from the floppy disk to the cloud, email privacy laws remain stuck in a decade where dial-up Internet was the standard. The Email Privacy Act will update these archaic laws for the 21st century, and protect Americans’ right to privacy. The public shouldn’t have to wait any longer for basic privacy protections to be applied to their emails.” 

"Support for constitutional protections, like requiring the government to get a warrant to read email, remain bipartisan,” Center for Democracy & Technology Vice President for Policy Chris Calabrese said. “House leadership and the sponsors of the Email Privacy Act have made a powerful statement by moving the legislation so quickly in the new Congress. The House has acted to protect Americans' privacy. Now it's up to the Senate and the President to do the same."

“The House has taken an important step by once again unanimously passing the Email Privacy Act - a bipartisan bill that affirms that law enforcement must get a warrant to access Americans' digital content,” ACLU’s Neema Singh Guilani said. “Last year, this bills' progress was derailed by Senate efforts to water down its provisions and attach amendments that would have weakened Americans' privacy.  We urge the Senate to not repeat past mistakes; instead it should act quickly to pass legislation that ensures that Americans' Fourth Amendment rights are protected in the digital age.”

The Email Privacy Act would:

  • Affirm that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their email accounts and other personal and professional content stored online.
  • Require the government to get a search warrant based on a showing of probable cause in order to compel a service provider, like Google or Yahoo, to disclose information that is not readily accessible to the public.
  • Preserve the legal tools necessary to conduct criminal investigations and protect the public.(Nothing in the bill alters warrant requirements under the Wiretap Act, FISA, or any other law.)

Last Congress, the Email Privacy Act garnered more than 300 cosponsors and unanimously passed the House of Representatives 419-0. Yoder and Polis reintroduced the bill this Congress because the Senate failed to act before the 114th Congress concluded.

Polis, the founder of several startups and tech companies, including ProFlowers.com and Techstars, a startup accelerator, has been a leader on technology and privacy policy since joining Congress in 2009. 

He’s been a leading co-sponsor of many bills aimed at defending the open Internet and protecting individuals’ right to privacy, including: the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, which would protect student data; the SPEAK FREE Act, which would enhance free speech protection for consumers on the Internet; and the Breaking Down Barriers to Innovation Act, which would reform outdated provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

In addition to his legislative track-record, Polis has been at the forefront of educating lawmakers about open source technology, digital currencies, and the challenges facing startups across the nation.

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