It may seem hard to believe but since 1986 when the original Electronic Communications Privacy Act became law, no changes to email privacy law have been made.
Under the 1986 law, law enforcement or other government agencies wishing to seize email from third party servers such as Verizon, Optimum Online, or Gmail, only need to obtain a warrant for emails that are less than 180 days old. The current version of the ECPA views emails that are older than 180 days as abandoned and therefore the government needs only a subpoena or court order to get them. In general, it is easier to obtain a court order or subpoena than it is for a governmental entity to obtain a search warrant.
The proposed amendment to the ECPA would require governmental agencies or law enforcement to get a warrant before they could access any emails or electronic communications being stored on third party servers regardless of their age.
The proposed changes to the law have already been approved by the senate judiciary committee. The full senate has not yet scheduled a vote on this law. Separately, the House of Representatives appropriations committee previously passed a similar amendment giving emails the same protections as regular mail.
The amendments the law would protect individuals and give them greater privacy rights against government agencies such as the IRS and the SEC.
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