U.S. House approves new privacy protections for email and the cloud

The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Monday the Email Privacy Act, which would require law enforcement agencies to get court-ordered warrants to search email and other data stored with third parties for longer than six months. 

The House approved the bill by voice vote, and it now goes the Senate for consideration.

The Email Privacy Act would update a 31-year-old law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Some privacy advocates and tech companies have pushed Congress to update ECPA since 2011. Lax protections for stored data raise doubts about U.S. cloud servicesamong consumers and enterprises, supporters of the bill say.

Under ECPA, the protections are different for older vs. more recent data. Law enforcement agencies need warrants to search paper files in a suspect's home or office and to search electronic files stored on the suspect's computer or in the cloud for less than 180 days. But files stored for longer have less protection. Police agencies need only a subpoena, not reviewed by a judge, to demand files stored in the cloud or with other third-party providers for longer than 180 days.

That difference in the way the law treats stored data is a "glaring loophole in our privacy protection laws," said Representative Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.

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