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By Eric Lieberman
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced a bill Thursday that would stop authorities from snooping on people’s communications without a warrant.
The legislation, called the Electronic Communications Privacy Modernization Act, is essentially an update to an antiquated law with the same name, sans “modernization.”
The differences between the proposed law and the one already on the books, according a report uploaded by the lawmakers, is that access to remotely stored emails more than 180 days old require a warrant, rather than the current 90-day stipulation. Law enforcement often obtains the aforementioned personal information, like location data, through a separate, less arduous legal process.
“Americans don’t believe the federal government should have warrantless access to their emails just because they are 180 days old,” Lee stated. “They don’t believe the government should be able to always know where you are just because you are carrying a cell phone.”
The bill also mandates a “prompt” response to warrants, a somewhat vague distinction that will likely cause law enforcement officials to object to the bill on grounds that it hamstrings their investigatory powers.
“Our digital privacy laws are woefully out of date and make no sense in the modern world,” Leahy said in an official statement. “Americans expect and deserve strong, meaningful protections for their emails, texts, photos, location information and documents stored in the cloud. It’s time for Congress to enact broad reforms to ECPA and other privacy laws to bring these laws into the 21st Century.” (RELATED: Former Lyft Driver Sues Uber For Allegedly Violating Electronic Communications Privacy Act)
The proposed legislation to bolster privacy protections comes as recently declassified documents show the Obama-era NSA spied on Americans without warrants for years, specifically failing to abide by the rules restricting their law enforcement surveillance endeavors.
“In the digital world, Americans deserve the same privacy protections that we have for our papers and personal information in the physical world,” Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, a limited government advocacy group, said in a statement provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Senator Lee’s efforts to reform ECPA’s outdated standards will restore the protections that our founder’s enshrined in the Constitution. I’m glad to see Sens. Lee and Leahy’s continued leadership on this important issue.” (RELATED: Will The GOP Remake Surveillance Laws After Trump Leaks?)
The official submission of the bill isn’t the first time Leahy and Lee tried to improve online privacy with concrete policy.
The bipartisan duo also introduced a very similar piece of legislation in 2015, which evidently didn’t advance through the lawmaking processes.