Leahy: electronic communications privacy a top priority for Senate Judiciary Committee

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Updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before reading people's stored emails and other forms of electronic communication is among the Senate Judiciary's top technology priorities for the new 113th Congress, says committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). He spoke Jan. 16 at the Georgetown University Law Center.

"I will keep pushing to update our privacy laws to address emerging technology and the internet, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and cybersecurity laws," Leahy told Georgetown University law students.

Nevertheless, he warned that passing the privacy legislation this year will not be an easy task. "It is going to be a fight. But I think people are realizing they don't have to give up their ability to use the Internet while at the same time guarding their freedom," Leahy said, adding that updating ECPA is one of the reasons he decided to stay on as chairman.

ECPA, which Congress passed in 1986, only requires police to obtain a subpoena, issued without a judge's approval, to read remotely-stored emails that have been opened or that are more than 180 days old. However, Leahy argues that the warrant requirement is necessary to ensure that federal privacy laws keep pace with advances in technology. 

Last year, Leahy tried unsuccessfully to attach his email privacy measure to a video deregulation bill, but Republicans blocked it due to concerns that the requirement would impede police investigations. The House, instead, fast-tracked a new bill focusing solely on the video sharing language, agreeing to it by voice note on Dec. 18 and sending it to the Senate, which passed it also by voice vote on Dec. 31.

For more:
- watch video of Leahy at Georgetown

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