Lawmakers consider search warrant for old emails

Posted at 9:03 AM, Dec 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-01 11:03:19-05
Lawmakers are considering making it harder for government investigators to get copies of people's old emails.
The change would close a loophole in a 30-year-old federal law that passed before online storage became so convenient and inexpensive. The 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act gives the government access to emails older than 180 days once agents obtain a subpoena.
The government uses subpoenas to third parties like Google or Yahoo get people's emails.
The new bill, taken up by the House Judiciary Committee, instead would require agents to get a search warrant, which generally requires probable cause that a crime has occurred. Exceptions in the bill would allow agents to obtain emails in terrorism investigations without any changes.
Google's law enforcement director, Richard Salgado, told lawmakers in prepared testimony that provisions under the old law "do not reflect the reasonable expectations of privacy of users." He also noted that the Justice Department has said there is no reason under privacy law for criminal investigators to treat old emails differently than newer emails.
Older emails were considered abandoned under the law passed in 1986, back when there was rarely enough storage space to hold emails older than six months.
The Securities and Exchange Commission opposes the new measure, saying as a civilian law enforcement agency it can't obtain a criminal warrant.
The SEC's enforcement director, Andrew Ceresney, said agents can't reasonably expect the targets of their investigations to turn over emails or other messages that might implicate them in fraud schemes.
"Individuals who violate the law are often reluctant to produce to the government evidence of their own misconduct," he said.
The Email Privacy Act was introduced by Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas.