The controversial Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 was finally amended by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. All 419 members of the House unanimously voted in favor of an amendment which will require law enforcement authorities to obtain a search warrant before accessing old e-mails stored by technology firms.
As of now, the law requires enforcement authorities to access electronic communications like e-mails by producing subpoenas. This way, Microsoft alleges, enforcement authorities abuse the law to prevent the company from informing its users that their e-mails are being accessed by the authorities. The company recently filed a lawsuit against the Justice department, alleging that subpoenas were used frequently by the authorities to prevent users from being informed that their e-mails were being accessed. Even though the amendment passed the House without a single vote against it, it is yet to be voted on by the Senate.
The bill will be introduced to the Senate by Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman. Grassley will first review the bill, discuss it with his committee and then decide the right time to introduce it to the Senate. However, this being an election year, it seems unlikely that the Senate will get to vote on the bill anytime soon. However, as per Reuters, Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee, two Democratic and Republican senators, have praised the bill, calling it "a historical step toward updating our privacy laws for the digital age." The Business Insider claims that the bill already has support of more than a quarter of senators and the prospects of its passage are bright.
In the last year, technology companies have increasingly protested against actions of the Justice department which they termed as direct assaults on individual privacy. Not so long ago, the Justice department decided to invoke an 18th century All Writs Act to force Apple to create a software that would give the FBI backdoor access to a terrorist's iPhone. While Apple protested, Google publicly supported Apple by stating that the government must not force companies to compromise the safety and security features that have been developed to keep people safe from identity thieves, hackers, and other criminals. Apple has also received support from a number of other technology companies like Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Microsoft, Pinterest and Snapchat.
Even though the All Writs Act needs a fresh look, the fact that the House passed an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act shows that the representatives are concerned about individual privacies and concerns. If the bill is passed by the Senate, users across the country will rest assured that their private e-mails and other correspondence are not being read by someone else without their consent or without a legal warrant.