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House of Representatives approves bill requiring warrants for email searches

The House of Representatives today unanimously voted to approve the Email Privacy Act, which requires law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant before accessing stored electronic communications, such as emails.

Updates the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act

The act updates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which has been in place since 1986. Although that law provides some protections, digital privacy activists have long criticized a part of it that ends warrant requirements for stored electronic communications after 180 days. The Email Privacy Act does away with that provision, and unlike ECPA, the Privacy Act also makes it clear that a warrant is required even if an email is already opened — an occasional point of contention between privacy groups and the government.

At least one provision some groups were hoping for didn't make it all the way through. Before the vote, a requirement was killed that would have made the government notify the person whose information is being searched.

Still, the Email Privacy Act has already found strong bipartisan support, with 314 co-sponsors signed up. Groups like the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation have already hailed the vote, with the latter calling it "a long-overdue update." The bill now moves on to the Senate.