Our View: Restricting email snoopery

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:52 PM

Editorial Board

It’s kind of ironic, but thanks to the revelations of mass snooping by the National Security Agency, a bipartisan U.S. Senate bill that would require a warrant before emails — and other online private communications — could be accessed by police is gaining some momentum.

According to The Hill publication, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is working with Senate leaders to get his bill, co-sponsored by Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, passed unanimously before the August recess. The bill would severely limit the access to private email communications, such as emails, for local and federal police.

There is an ironic caveat to this news, however. Despite the news of the NSA email and Internet snoopery that has drawn severe criticism during the past couple of months, the Leahy/Lee bill would exempt the current NSA snooping programs.

Nevertheless, the Senate should pass the bill quickly and it needs to be passed by the entire Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama. With today’s online communications, the current version of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed long ago in 1986, is extremely obsolete. Under the current rules, police only need a subpoena to force Internet companies to hand over opened emails or emails that have been stored more than six months.

That rule was hatched long before the days of Google, or Facebook. It was passed when the idea of massive email or text storage was not envisioned. For most of us, having hundreds of emails, or more, saved and put into storage can be construed as the norm. We archive information, using it as our own personal library.

It’s offensive that a mere subpoena would allow police intrusion into our archives. Getting a warrant is the correct change. It will increase our privacy rights while not seriously impeding law enforcement in its efforts to combat crime.

This bill to protect our email and other private communications is long overdue. We’ll be keeping an eye on its progress.

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