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Government Surveillance

A Majority of the House Now Supports ECPA Reform

On Tuesday, the movement to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) reached an historic milestone: The Email Privacy Act to update ECPA picked up its 218th cosponsor. This means an absolute majority of Representatives support legislation to require the government to get a warrant before accessing email.

Representatives Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Cedric Richmond (D-LA) were the 216th, 217th, and 218th cosponsors to join the Email Privacy Act. Introduced by Representatives Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Jared Polis (D-CO), the bill enjoys rare levels of bipartisan support and is now cosponsored by a majority of Republicans in the House and a majority of the powerful Judiciary Committee. All these numbers mean one thing: If the bill were brought to a vote, it would be guaranteed to pass.

The House should now act swiftly to approve the bill. At a time of heightened public concern over privacy, ECPA reform is something Congress can accomplish this year. With elections right around the corner, Members of Congress can show they take their constituents’ privacy seriously—and that they can enact meaningful reform—by passing this bill. Voters are clearly looking to Congress to strengthen privacy protections. In a recent poll taken in seven politically diverse regions, an overwhelming majority of voters said they were more likely to support a candidate that backs ECPA reform.

Even law enforcement has acknowledged the need to update the antiquated statute. Recently, FBI Director James Comey said that amending ECPA to require a warrant “won’t have any effect on our practice.”

This leaves the Securities and Exchange Commission as the remaining source of opposition to a hugely popular and bipartisan bill. Some members of the SEC have opposed reform because they want the regulatory agency to have new powers to snoop on email without a warrant. However, the SEC cannot access mail held by the Postal Service or tap a phone, and it should not be afforded new powers to access content stored online.

The math is simple: A majority is in favor of ECPA reform to prohibit the government from accessing email without a warrant. Now, it’s time to pass the bill.