House unanimously OKs bill bolstering privacy of old emails

AP News
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Posted: Apr 27, 2016 5:54 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House used a rare show of unanimity Wednesday to approve legislation requiring the government to get a search warrant if it wants people's older emails.

The legislation would require federal agencies to get a warrant before they can force an email service provider like Google to provide access to data over 180 days old. Also protected would be older, stored electronic documents like videos, text messages and photos.

The bill updates a three-decade-old law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, enacted when the use of email was rare. Under it, warrants have been required for government access to emails under 6 months old, but older data has been considered abandoned and can be obtained by the government without prior legal approval.

Current law also allows government access without a warrant to any emails that recipients have opened. The House-passed bill would require a warrant for investigators to see those documents.

The House approved the bill Wednesday by 419-0. Its top sponsors are Reps. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., and Jared Polis, D-Colo.

Underscoring its broad support, the measure was backed by both the liberal American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Heritage Action for America.

A similar, bipartisan Senate bill with 27 co-sponsors was introduced last year but has yet to advance in that chamber.