There’s a Quick Fix to Protect Our Email Privacy

Today is Data Privacy Day.

Many businesses are using the holiday to raise awareness about the importance of protecting our personal information online. That is all fine and well. However, it prompts the question: just how private is what we post online?

Of course, our public Facebook posts and tweets are not private. Anyone can read those. Most people, though, have an expectation of privacy when it comes to private emails we send to friends and coworkers. We don’t like to envision a federal bureaucrat reading our emails and possibly passing the contents around to their buddies in the office.

Unfortunately, government officials can legally do that. Any of our emails that are over 180 days old are not protected under current law. No warrant needed. No need to inform you.

If that sounds unconstitutional… that’s because it is. The 4th Amendment says: “"the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

There’s a problem when privacy laws on the books pertaining to Internet communication were written in 1986. To put it mildly, digital privacy laws desperately need to be updated to keep up with current technology.

This is an issue that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Senator Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Lee (R-Utah) have written a joint op-ed calling for digital privacy laws to be updated.

They write:

In the coming weeks, we will reintroduce legislation to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and safeguard the privacy of e-mail and other information stored in "the cloud." In the last Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved this bipartisan bill, but it has yet to become law. Today is Data Privacy Day, reminding everyone of the work that needs to be done.

They go on to further explain the soon-to-be-proposal bill:

The proposal we will soon introduce requires the government to obtain a search warrant, based on probable cause, before searching through the content of Americans’ e-mail or other electronic communications stored with a service provider such as Google, Facebook, or Yahoo!. The government is already prohibited from tapping our phones or forcibly entering our homes to obtain private information without warrants. The same privacy protections should apply to our online communications.

That pretty much sums it up. There is no good reason why privacy protections shouldn’t also apply to our emails. It is no different than the “papers” the Founders talked about in the 4th Amendment.

Thankfully, digital privacy law reform is a popular idea. Groups ranging from Demand Progress and the ACLU to the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform are in support. A total of 273 members of the House cosponsored identical legislation last year.

Digital privacy laws need to be updated this year. Period.

Can you please help to make sure that happens?