The Senate Decided It's Not Okay to Spy on Email without a Warrant

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Following a leaked report that set off not one but two rounds of speculation into the future of digital privacy, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday that requires a warrant to access e-mail and any other private communications stored over the cloud. The bill will update a current standard in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that currently allows law enforcement access email without any kind of probable cause. Because that's not how email used to work before Gmail et al came along and the bill doesn't work like that anymore, since so much of our mail exists in the cloud these days. If this updated version passes, the feds can't get access to your emails, or Facebook messages, or anything private between you and another person on the Internet without a warrant, if it passes. The Senate probably won't see the bill until next year, says CNET's Declan McCullagh. Considering the opposition from the Justice Department and law enforcement agencies, it's not clear if it will pass. Or, when it will even make it to the floor.

If it doesn't pass, expect backlash, since that's what happened when people thought the bill would allow for warrantless email searches because of a report on CNET. That led to this 8,000 person petition and overall general anger, a reaction CNET claims ensured the bill made it to the committee in its current form. 

In addition to the updates to the ECPA, the bill includes a "Netflix amendment," an update to the Video Privacy Protection Act. As of now, Netflix can't link up with Facebook's frictionless sharing because of the way a law about video cassettes was written, McCullagh explains in another post. This update, which has already passed the house, will get rid of that provision. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.