A Bill: E-Mail Snooping

Congress moves to limit government spying on your old e-mails

Senate Bill 607 Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013
The Essentials
1. Police and other officials don’t need warrants to access personal e-mails that are more than 180 days old. That’s because in 1986, when Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, e-mails had to be downloaded from servers for long-term storage, and messages untouched for 180 days were considered abandoned. S. 607 updates that law and requires the government to get a warrant to read old e-mails and documents stored by Web companies.

2. The national-security spying that former contractor Edward Snowden exposed would still be permitted. Given the furor over his revelations, though, lawmakers are eager to show voters they’re doing something about privacy concerns. The bill—backed by tech companies, civil liberties advocates, and a long list of former federal prosecutors—passed the Senate’s Judiciary Committee in April and might get a full vote soon. A House version introduced in May now has 133 sponsors.

3. That’s not to say there won’t be a glitch. The Securities and Exchange Commission has told Congress the bill will hamper its fraud investigations. The agency relies on subpoenas to get records from Internet service providers, which it wouldn’t be able to do if S. 607 becomes law. The SEC wants Congress to allow it to continue getting records, but privacy advocates say that would lead to other exceptions.

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