On Wednesday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that requires authorities to get a warrant to obtain e-mail stored in the cloud.
The Email Privacy Act would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act and closes a loophole that allows the government to use a subpoena to get communications if they are more than six months old.
The 1986 law was written before the advent of cloud computing.
The bill underwent small but significant changes prior to Wednesday's vote. While the primary parts of the bill, including new warrant protections, remain unchanged, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., circulated a substitute amendment Friday that removed a provision requiring the government to quickly notify any individuals targeted by an ECPA warrant. Tech companies could still tell their customers a warrant had been served.
Privacy advocates, who have complained that Goodlatte has stalled the bill, applauded the progress.
"Every single American will enjoy greater privacy protection in their personal communications with the passage of the Email Privacy Act. It's a huge step forward to bring the same protections we enjoy in our homes to our digital lives," said Chris Calabrese, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s VP of policy. "With such overwhelming support, the House should move quickly to vote for and pass this essential bill."
The bill has more than 300 co-sponsors.
Goodlatte denied dragging his feet on the bill. "Reforming this outdated law has been a priority for me as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and I have worked with members and stakeholders for years to bring this law into the 21st century," Goodlatte said.
There is no date set for a floor vote on the legislation and the bill has a long way to go before it becomes law. Similar versions of the bill have been debated for almost 10 years.
The handling of email has garnered more attention recently as the result of the Hilary Clinton email scandal. Companies that use cloud should keep a close eye on this bill, as it could ultimately change corporate email rights and responsibilities.