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house Bill H.R. 387

Before Searching Your Email, Should Law Enforcement Officials Have To Get A Warrant?

What is House Bill H.R. 387?

This bill would require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before digging into your information from Internet service providers.

Investigating parties would also have to give a copy of the warrant to the customer they are checking out ten days in advance. The government can, however, apply for an order to extend the period of time before the customer is informed. The bill does not prevent government officials from obtaining information about a person’s location.

Impact

People who use the Internet and store information in the cloud, all those scandalous emails, people involved in electronic communications investigations, law enforcement officials, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 387

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) has introduced or cosponsored this legislation in the last two congresses, and in a press release announcing its reintroduction in the 115th Congress Yoder said:

"After the unanimous passage of our bill last year, I see no reason why we can't get this done right away. Let's give the Senate ample time to act, because more than 30 years has been long enough for Congress to wait on this. It's simple, in 2017 if the federal government wants to access Americans' digital content, it must get a warrant."

The bill has received wide bipartisan support in the past. On the other hand, many critics have pointed out that this bill does not ensure total privacy online. While the government would be barred from freely accessing the content of online communication — investigators would still be able to obtain information about a customer’s communications, including names, locations, and addresses after they get a warrant.

Currently, this bill has the bipartisan support of 108 cosponsors in the House, including 64 Republicans and 44 Democrats.

This legislation passed the House unanimously on a 419-0 vote during the last Congress, but wasn't considered in the Senate. That version of it was also one of the most popular bills on Countable, gaining the support of 94 percent of users.


Of Note: The Electronic Communications Privacy Act has not been updated since 1986. Under current law, the federal government can access your personal electronic communications — including emails, text messages, and documents stored on online servers without a warrant:

"Law enforcement officials don’t need to obtain a warrant for emails, documents or items stored digitally in the cloud, as long as they are older than 180 days. Instead, they can nab the data with a subpoena, which does not come from a court and is often easier to obtain."

Media:

(Photo Credit: "Amiiga4000DP" by Kaiiv. Original uploader was Kaiiv at de.wikipedia / Creative Commons)

AKA

Email Privacy Act

Official Title

To amend title 18, United States Code, to update the privacy protections for electronic communications information that is stored by third-party service providers in order to protect consumer privacy interests while meeting law enforcement needs, and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
  • The house Passed February 6th, 2017
    Passed by Voice Vote
      house Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
      Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security
    IntroducedJanuary 9th, 2017

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    It is worrying that this is even a question!
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    Absolutely. This is basic fourth amendment protection. Not only must there be a warrant, but it must be specific. There is no authority for anyone to search all my email for anything suspicious because they have a hunch. A constitutional warrant requires you say which emails (say, a specific range of dates), for what, and what evidence you have. That requirement of specificity is in the fourth amendment, too. Yes you have to get a warrant, and it has to be the right kind of warrant rather than one of these sweeping unconstitutional ones that the NSA gets.
    Like (900)
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    This was established a few years ago. What was that thing called? Oh yeah, the fourth freaking amendment. The idea that this is even in question is horrifying.
    Like (618)
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    If I wrote it on paper, a search warrant would be required. In a digital world, why should email be any different?
    Like (519)
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    I am a law enforcement officer. It is always the best legal course of action to obtain a warrant first when searching. The only exceptions to this are when time is imperative i.e.the destruction of evidence of a crime and when a persons life is in danger.
    Like (257)
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    Are you fucking serious?????
    Like (209)
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    Electronic communications should receive the same Fourth Amendment privacy protection that apply to written communication.
    Like (197)
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    Although Republicans are newly fond of Russia & Putin, we are not yet an authoritarian country. The rule of law still prevails (unless you have brown skin.) A warrant should be required before any search of personal property or personal information. It seems that conservatives have sincerely held values unless 1. a person has the gall to disagree with them or 2. it is inconvenient. It would be a darlin' thing if you read the Constitution & made a renewed commitment to American values NOT just your own bottom line & the 2018 election.
    Like (125)
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    Protection of our privacy is a cornerstone of democracy and protected by the Constitution.
    Like (97)
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    It's in black and white: 4thA-The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. If it were not for Judicial activist Judges, this issue of requiring a warrant to search email "papers" wouldn't be deeply intrenched in our norms of daily living. Our Founding Fathers didn't just throw our Constitution together in the heat of the moment while enjoying a beer in a local pub, but deliberated as demonstrated by "The Federalist Papers"
    Like (73)
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    Why should the virtual world be any different than the physical?
    Like (70)
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    My email is my private property.
    Like (52)
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    Is this seriously a question?!
    Like (44)
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    Yes, a warrant should be issued first. Email is the advanced form of letters and mail in which we once would have kept in our desk drawers. Respect and courtesy should not be surrendered as technology advances.
    Like (42)
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    I must say that reading a number of opinions on this issue has given me some hope for this country! It's encouraging to see how many people actually know what the Constitution says and, more importantly perhaps, how many people actually SUPPORT what it says! Some notable opinions: Countable member "operaman" said: "It's in black and white: 4thA-The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. If it were not for Judicial activist Judges, this issue of requiring a warrant to search email "papers" wouldn't be deeply intrenched in our norms of daily living. Our Founding Fathers didn't just throw our Constitution together in the heat of the moment while enjoying a beer in a local pub, but deliberated as demonstrated by 'The Federalist Papers'. " Countable member Perry said: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Countable member "jameslj" said: "This was established a few years ago. What was that thing called? Oh yeah, the fourth freaking amendment. The idea that this is even in question is horrifying." KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, MY LIBERTY-LOVING FRIENDS!! I REALLY APPRECIATE YOUR EFFORT TO MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD BY THOSE IN GOVERNMENT! WE CANNOT, WE MUST NOT, LOSE THE FREEDOMS THAT GOD BLESSED US WITH AND FOR WHICH SO MANY HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES! IF WE FAIL, WHAT KIND OF LEGACY WILL WE LEAVE FUTURE GENERATIONS? KHRUSHCHEV SAID THAT THE COMMUNISM OF THE SOVIET UNION WOULD BURY US. UNDER THE TYRANNY OF BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA AND THE SOCIALIST DEMOCRATS, I FEARED THAT THAT COULD BECOME A REALITY! WE SEE OBAMA'S LEGACY IN THE DISRESPECT FOR THE RULE OF LAW, THE DISRESPECT FOR THE RIGHTS AND PROPERTY OF OUR FELLOW CITIZENS, AND THE WANTON ABUSE OF POWER BY OUR BLOATED, UNELECTED BUREAUCRACY! But just as I take heart in your knowledge and your activism, I am greatly encouraged by what God has told us: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” ‭‭(Jeremiah‬ ‭32:27‬ ‭NKJV‬‬) “. . .if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (II Chronicles‬ ‭7:14‬ ‭NKJV‬‬) If we do OUR part, God will do HIS part!
    Like (34)
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    All communications should be treated with the same level of privacy protection as written ones.
    Like (24)
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    Email accounts are password protected. It's like the lock on your house. It's private. Snail mail is private. It's a federal offense to open another person's mail. Law enforcement needs to have a warrant to access a person's email.
    Like (23)
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    I'm torn on this issue. Having done extensive research regarding electronic search warrants and electronically stored information, my first instinct is to say No--only because the judges who determine the validity or scope of the warrant may not be tech-savvy or computer literate. In fact, most do not understand how electronic information is stored. So the warrants are extremely limited in scope or are practically useless. This is so disturbing in an increasingly digital age. Cybercrime is the crime of the future...it's the crime of today, we just haven't grasped it's breadth yet. So, on the one hand, I do not believe traditional search warrants should apply to electronically stored information. On the other hand, I believe in and support and will defend to the death my constitutional right to privacy. Perhaps the best solution is to increase the tech-literacy of judges...but I don't see that gaining support any time soon.
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    Absolutely. We cannot let the government behave like a totalitarian spy on its citizen. Due process, warrants, and respect of private life.
    Like (17)
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    A persons personal email is the same importance as of US postal mail box so it should be treated in the same manner.
    Like (17)
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