Lee, Leahy Call on Senate to Take Up House-Passed Email Privacy Bill

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and fellow panel member Mike Lee (R-Utah) called on their colleagues to pass H.R. 699, the Email Privacy Act, following the House’s resounding 419-0 vote on Wednesday.

Leahy and Lee, who sponsored the Senate version of the legislation, called the House vote a “historic step toward updating our privacy laws for the digital age.”

“It should go without saying that law enforcement agents should have to get a warrant to read Americans’ emails or retrieve their sensitive information from the cloud – yet that is not what our statutes currently require,” the two senators said in a joint statement. “It is long past time to reassure the American people that their online communications are protected from warrantless searches.”

Lee’s bill has bipartisan support among its 25 co-sponsors.

The bill would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to access the content of online communications older than 180 days or stored in a cloud service.

It’s unclear whether Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wants to take up the bill. In the past, agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission have lobbied for carveouts.

“Chairman Grassley will take a look at whatever the House passes, consult with all of the interested stakeholders as well as his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, and decide where to go from there,” Taylor Foy, a committee spokesman, wrote in an email today before the House vote.

On April 13, following the House Judiciary Committee’s approval of the measure, Foy said in an email that there were concerns over how it could “hamper the civil enforcement of our securities, environmental, and consumer protection laws.”