U.S. Representative Jared Polis


Congress, it's time to vote on email privacy

by Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Suzan DelBene

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Washington, April 13, 2016 | comments

In 1986 the Internet was just an experimental form of communication between a handful of academics, and yet more than 30 years later, Americans’ online email privacy laws remain stuck in the pre-internet era. At this moment, law enforcement can access American citizens’ emails without a warrant, even though the exact same messages in paper form would require a warrant.  Law-abiding Americans have a right to be frustrated and upset. While email has developed into one of the most common forms of communication, the laws that prevent government intrusion remain outdated for the 21st century.  

Failure of Congress to act is to blame. We haven’t updated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) since 1986, an era in which a majority of Americans didn’t comprehend the concept of email, let alone have their own accounts accessible 24/7 with a mobile device. After several decades, numerous bills, and more than 300 bipartisan cosponsors, an update to protect our online correspondence and our Fourth Amendment privacy rights is on the cusp of a vote. Today, the Email Privacy Act will receive a markup in the House Judiciary Committee, placing it one step away from a vote on the House floor.

This legislation is the most popular bill in Congress, boasting the support of 197 Republican and 118 Democratic cosponsors, giving us a prime opportunity for a painless markup and overwhelming passage. 
It is critical that as the bill finally moves through the legislative process, it is protected from provisions that would contradict the reform effort. Some suggest - broadly and hypothetically - that the Email Privacy Act would hinder federal agencies’ ability to conduct investigations. Yet, this point undermines the exact intent of the Email Privacy Act, and the reason the bill has strong support from both parties. 
Let’s remember that the Fourth Amendment was created to safeguard individuals from unjustified government intrusions. It’s nonsensical that our homes, cars and mailboxes are protected from unwarranted government searches, but the government can sift through our email inboxes with impunity. These are the reasons why the Email Privacy Act has such immense bipartisan support. This bill aligns with the values our nation holds dear, and it unquestionably protects Americans from government abuse and overreach in the 21st century.
Americans have demanded commonsense privacy protections for their online communications and the majority of Congress agrees overwhelmingly. It’s time to update this archaic law, and we urge Chairman Goodlatte and the House Judiciary Committee to move the Email Privacy Act forward, without substantial changes as sponsored by more than two-thirds of Congress, and more importantly, as the American people deserve.
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