It’s been 30 years since Congress overhauled our laws governing electronic information. On April 27, the House took an important step to approve long overdue reforms protecting the privacy of electronic information, including stored emails, texts and instant messages.
I am an original cosponsor of the Email Privacy Act, which passed the House 419-0, demonstrating broad bipartisan support for change. H.R. 699 strikes a fair balance between the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of liberty and the needs of law enforcement.
Much has happened since the existing law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in 1986. At that time, few Americans used email, texting hadn’t been invented and Google was 12 years from opening. There was no Facebook, Twitter or cloud computing.
Now, 232 million Americans email at least once a month, 207 million use smartphones and social media has become integral to most of our lives.
Under existing law, local, state and federal agencies may order Internet service providers to surrender electronic records older than 180 days by simply issuing an administrative subpoena.
The Email Privacy Act closes that loophole and requires a probable cause warrant from a judge before providing email and other electronic records.
The House resisted efforts to exempt law enforcement and regulators from warrant and certain notice requirements, provisions that would have undermined the bill by expanding unchecked government surveillance.
As a member of the House Judiciary Committee that considered H.R. 699, I assure you public safety was carefully balanced with privacy interests. For example, technology companies that are served a warrant may notify suspects a warrant has been issued. But the bill also allows government officials to apply for a court order directing providers not to give such notice for a certain period of time.
The Email Privacy Act also is good for America’s innovation economy. Our competitiveness depends on free markets and our Constitutional guarantees of individual liberty. These reforms are vital to continued growth in technology and cloud computing.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where I hope they take action as soon as possible to strengthen our economy, protect privacy and keep us safe.
Raúl Labrador, a Republican, has represented Idaho’s First Congressional District since 2011.