Police officers should obtain a warrant before searching emails, text messages, and other private digital content, White House advisers said Thursday.
The officials urged Congress to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — a 1986 law that allows police to read emails that have been opened or that are more than 180 days old without a warrant.
Privacy advocates have been lobbying the White House for months to come out in favor of updating the law. The Justice Department has previously expressed support for upgrading the law's privacy protections, but the Securities and Exchange Commission has argued that new legislation should include a carve-out for civil investigations.
The White House officials announced their support for the update as part of a report on data privacy. In a blog post, John Podesta, a senior adviser who led the privacy review, said Congress should amend ECPA to "ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical world — including by removing archaic distinctions between email left unread or over a certain age."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, is championing ECPA reform legislation, but his bill has yet to reach the Senate floor. Controversy over National Security Agency spying has largely overshadowed the issue in the past year.