U.S. Representative Jared Polis

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Polis, Yoder Reintroduce Widely-Supported Email Privacy Act

Bill Unanimously Passed House in 2016, Stalled in Senate

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Washington, January 9, 2017 | comments

Washington, D.C. – Today, Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) reintroduced the Email Privacy Act, legislation that modernizes America’s digital privacy laws by establishing protections against warrantless searches of private emails.

The Email Privacy Act would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to state that all government agencies must get a warrant to search Americans’ online communications, regardless of when the email was crafted.  In 1986, Congress passed ECPA, which contains a loophole that allows the government to search any email older than 180 days stored on a third-party server, such as Google or Yahoo, without a warrant.

“As a result of Congress’s failure to keep pace with technological developments, every American is at risk of having their emails warrantlessly searched by government agencies,” Rep. Polis said. “The Email Privacy Act will update, and bring our archaic laws into the 21st century, and protect Americans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights, whether they’re communicating through pen-and-paper mail or email. Americans justly demand this level of privacy, and I remain confident that the bill will swiftly pass Congress.”

“After the unanimous passage of our bill last year, I see no reason why we can’t get this done right away,” Rep. Yoder said. “Let’s give the Senate ample time to act, because more than 30 years has been long enough for Congress to wait on this. It’s simple, in 2017 if the federal government wants to access Americans’ digital content, it must get a warrant.”

Both House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) are original cosponsors of the bill.

“I am pleased to continue the bipartisan effort to modernize the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a law that is woefully outdated and has not kept pace with advances in technology and online communications,” Ranking Member Conyers said. “The statute does not adequately protect the Fourth Amendment rights of our citizens and we must make clear that the law requires the government to get a warrant in order to access private online communications.  Our citizens deserve and expect no less.  I look forward to swift passage of this bill, which the House approved last Congress by a vote of 419 – 0, and its enactment in the new Congress.”

The legislation has been carefully drafted through negotiations with the House Judiciary Committee, industry stakeholders, law enforcement, and civil liberties groups.

"The Email Privacy Act is a commonsense, bipartisan measure that protects the privacy of everyone's communications. The importance of private communications is clearly one thing everyone in Congress can agree on," said Center for Democracy & Technology Vice President for Policy Chris Calabrese. "Representatives Polis and Yoder have worked tirelessly to craft a measure which passed the House unanimously last Congress. This year we urge rapid passage by Congress and the President."

“Technology continues to develop at warp speed, but unfortunately U.S. laws to protect privacy remain woefully outdated.  It is long due for Congress to pass legislation that would require the government to obtain a warrant and provide notice before they can collect sensitive information, like emails or documents stored in cloud services,” said ACLU’s Neema Singh Guilani. “We applaud Rep. Polis and Rep. Yoder for their tireless efforts to advance the Email Privacy Act and ensure 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 to disclose communications that are not readily accessible to the public with -- regardless of the age of the communications or the means of their storage
  • 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 are reintroducing the bill because the Senate failed to act before the 114th Congress came to a close.

Representatives Susan DelBene (D-Wash.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Will Hurd, (R-Texas), and Ted Poe (R-Texas) have also joined as original cosponsors of the bill.

Polis, the founder of several startups and tech companies, including ProFlowers.com and Techstars, has been a leader on technology and privacy issues 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, the most significant federal attempt to protect student data in decades, 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, he’s 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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