Congress could soon vote on a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to get a search warrant from a judge to obtain emails, photographs and other documents Americans have stored online.
Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, government agents need a warrant if they want access to email stored on the servers of companies like Google and Yahoo, but only if the messages are less than 180 days old. For older messages and other digital files, law enforcement officials can issue subpoenas to technology companies without going to a judge.
A bill introduced in the House by Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas, would require a warrant for all information stored online, regardless of how old it is and what kind of file it is. The legislation includes a sensible exception that would allow civil enforcement agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission to subpoena messages sent by employees on a corporate computer system.