White House: Police Should Have Warrants for Email Searches

Officials back a push to update a 1986 privacy law.

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
May 1, 2014, 12:07 p.m.

Po­lice of­ficers should ob­tain a war­rant be­fore search­ing emails, text mes­sages, and oth­er private di­git­al con­tent, White House ad­visers said Thursday.

The of­fi­cials urged Con­gress to up­date the Elec­tron­ic Com­mu­nic­a­tions Pri­vacy Act — a 1986 law that al­lows po­lice to read emails that have been opened or that are more than 180 days old without a war­rant.

Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates have been lob­by­ing the White House for months to come out in fa­vor of up­dat­ing the law. The Justice De­part­ment has pre­vi­ously ex­pressed sup­port for up­grad­ing the law’s pri­vacy pro­tec­tions, but the Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion has ar­gued that new le­gis­la­tion should in­clude a carve-out for civil in­vest­ig­a­tions. 

The White House of­fi­cials an­nounced their sup­port for the up­date as part of a re­port on data pri­vacy. In a blog post, John Podesta, a seni­or ad­viser who led the pri­vacy re­view, said Con­gress should amend ECPA to “en­sure the stand­ard of pro­tec­tion for on­line, di­git­al con­tent is con­sist­ent with that af­forded in the phys­ic­al world — in­clud­ing by re­mov­ing ar­cha­ic dis­tinc­tions between email left un­read or over a cer­tain age.”

Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy, a Ver­mont Demo­crat, is cham­pi­on­ing ECPA re­form le­gis­la­tion, but his bill has yet to reach the Sen­ate floor. Con­tro­versy over Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency spy­ing has largely over­shad­owed the is­sue in the past year.

“It is clear that mo­mentum is on the side of re­form, and now it is time for the Con­gress to re­spond,” Leahy said in a state­ment. 

Pri­vacy groups ap­plauded the White House for back­ing the le­gis­lat­ive push.

“Every­one who cares about their pri­vacy should be glad that the pres­id­ent’s re­view group re­com­mends up­dat­ing ECPA to pro­tect Amer­ic­ans’ com­mu­nic­a­tions,” said Chris­toph­er Ca­labrese, a lob­by­ist for the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on. “By re­cog­niz­ing that on­line and off­line com­mu­nic­a­tions should be treated the same, the re­port lays the ground­work for keep­ing every­one’s emails, texts, and pho­tos private and se­cure.”

Nu­ala O’Con­nor, the pres­id­ent of the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy and Tech­no­logy, urged Con­gress to “act now to pass ECPA re­form le­gis­la­tion without any loop­holes.”

What We're Following See More »
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
15 hours ago

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
1 days ago

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
1 days ago

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
1 days ago
California: It’s Not Over Yet
1 days ago

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.