Jul 25 2014
"Americans have a constitutionally protected right to privacy that no one, including the IRS, may take away. Our electronic communications privacy laws need to be updated to reflect that fact."
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) has cosponsored the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act (S.607), bipartisan legislation to protect the privacy of American citizens online by updating the privacy protections for electronic communications stored by third-party service providers – including email and social media services. The importance of updating the privacy protections was recently underscored by an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) claim that American Internet users “do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy” when it comes to their emails being accessed by the government.
“Americans have a constitutionally protected right to privacy that no one, including the IRS, may take away,” Sen. Moran said. “Our electronic communications privacy laws need to be updated to reflect that fact. These outdated laws, designed in the era of floppy disks, do not make sense in an era of cloud computing, when users essentially have infinite storage online. Americans rightfully expect their private communications to be protected from intrusion, especially by government bureaucrats. S. 607 will affirm Americans’ right to privacy and help bring this 1980s law into the 21st Century.”
Documents released in April as part of a Freedom of Information Act request show that in 2009, the Criminal Tax Division at the IRS claimed in an internal handbook that in general “the Fourth Amendment does not protect communications held in electronic storage, such as email messages stored on a server.”
Congress has not addressed federal email privacy laws since 1986, before the home computers and email were widely used and before the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and cloud computing transformed our lives. S. 607 would make certain the Fourth Amendment privacy protections Americans receive from regular mail and other paper documents are extended to electronic correspondence and content, including cloud computing, email, and other online services. The bill establishes a search warrant requirement before government agencies – such as the IRS – may obtain the content of Americans’ emails and other electronic communications, when those communications are stored with a third-party service provider including Gmail, Yahoo!, wireless providers or cloud storage platforms. The bill also eliminates the outdated “180-day” rule that calls for different legal standards for the government to obtain email content depending upon the age of an email, and it requires that the government notify an individual whose electronic communications have been disclosed within 10 days of obtaining a search warrant.
S. 607 is the Senate Companion to the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 1852) introduced in the House by Congressman Kevin Yoder, which recently reached 228 cosponsors. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act has already been passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.