Congress Takes Up Email Privacy Reform. Again.

Two related bills, one apiece in the upper and lower chambers of Congress, were introduced today aimed at reforming email privacy. They mark another attempt by the nation’s legislative body at reforming the requirements that the government must meet to read your digital missives.

Current protections are minimal. As TechCrunch previously reported, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the government can read your email with a mere subpoena if a letter is more than 180 days old or has been opened.

Why those two requirements? Think back decades to a time when storage was expensive.

Storage is now ubiquitous and nearly free. The old rules, which made little sense before, make zero now. So it is time to reform the ECPA. That’s to say that it has long been the time to reform the ECPA, making every day the correct time to finally get the damn job done.

The House bill has more than 220 co-sponsors, the EFF notes, a towering initial tally. The bill also has bipartisan support in both chambers. Last time we did this, however, the bills did not manage to secure a floor vote. Congress’s arcanity is strange to behold.

If this all feels like a repeat, you have a good memory. For flavor, a paragraph from last year, following a report from the White House:

In fact, several amending bills have been proposed. The Leahy-Lee Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act (text) was one such effort. Rep. Zoe Lofgren also took a stab. Nothing managed to get itself passed by both chambers of Congress and across the President’s desk. This should be a no-brainer. In late 2013 Google pushed a White House petition that called for reform of the ECPA, and so forth.

That, coupled with the simple fact that email privacy is so popular, you might think that we could get this done.

Reforming the rules regarding email privacy is a mere step in the walk towards correcting the mass surveillance that the United States government executes, but it is an important piece of progress all the same.

It makes no sense that the government doesn’t have to have a warrant to burrow into your email. NSA reform may have failed in 2014 for a host of reasons, and immigration reform is stuck fast, and on and on and on. But can we at least all agree, and vote on the fact, that warrants are a pretty good thing, and that we the citizenry deserve higher walls around their digital papers?

Let’s see if 2015 will be just another 2014 in a new suit.