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Senate bill would stop police from obtaining emails and location data without a warrant

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Senators introduced new legislation today that would expand privacy protections and stop law enforcement from obtaining emails and location data without a warrant.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Modernization Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act by requiring police to obtain a warrant for remotely stored emails that are more than 180 days old, which law enforcement can currently obtain through a lower legal standard.

The bill would also require law enforcement to obtain warrants for location data, an issue that has entered complex legal territory around the country. It would also raise the requirements for the use of gag orders, and require reports from the FCC and Government Accountability Office on the use of phone-tracking Stingray devices.

The bill mirrors similar legislation that has been floating through Congress for years, but that has never found enough traction to become law. Earlier this year, and after previous attempts stalled, the House passed the Email Privacy Act, which would also extend protections for stored communications like email. Today, senators also introduced their version of that act.

“Americans don’t believe the federal government should have warrantless access to their emails just because they are 180 days old,” Lee said in a statement. “They don’t believe the government should be able to always know where you are just because you are carrying a cell phone. It is long past time that Congress updated our federal laws to better protect Americans’ privacy.”

Similar legislation has received praise from digital privacy and civil rights organizations, with groups like the EFF and ACLU expressing their support for the Email Privacy Act. But with other bills falling flat, the new bill’s prospects in Congress are still uncertain.