Washington has taken up legislation that requires police to obtain a warrant to search emails and other private online content.
While the government needs a warrant to search your home, when it comes to email, authorities can search and read most of them—no warrant required—due to a glitch in The Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The 1968 ECPA allows law enforcement to access emails on a third party server that are 180 days or older without a warrant.
An unusual alliance between Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, and Utah’s Republican Senator Mike Lee, is working to remedy the problem.
“I think that this comes from a certain American value that we have, the right to be left alone,” said David Goodfriend, a professor of technology policy at George Washington and Georgetown Law Schools. “Whether you are a conservative who fears the government coming after your privacy or progressive who fears a large corporation is snooping on your hard drive. Both those feelings come from the same notion that we have the right to be left alone.”
For many Americans, the question is whether it’s worth it to compromise privacy in order to be safe.
“The truth is we balance these things all the time,” Goodfriend said. “Just think of yourself going through airport security…You do it because you want to feel safer on the plane, and we have this balancing act going on right now on the issue of privacy.”