Can We Stop the Feds From Reading Our Opened Emails and Social Media Messages?

Dees Illustration

By Amanda Warren

If you’ve opened an email or social media message that’s over 6 months old, it’s a possibility that some agent has too – how do we turn things around?

For anyone who’s been paying attention in the last 15 years, any news of government snooping such as listening in on phone calls, social media data collection or perusing internet activity is unfortunately, a given. In fact, for many of you, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA were more like public confirmations. But there are more disturbing turns that pass the limitations of our imaginations….

In an eerie turn of events, we’ve witnessed in this week’s news, revelations of way more government wiretapping than was ever previously revealed, the FBI throwing a fit unless they can dip into encryption-free data from you, and the Senate getting ready to actually vote on requiring social media to report suspicious activity to the feds. Another creepy confirmation this week divulged details of private companies color coding your house for law enforcement – the color indicating threat level even based on something a friend had done in the past and tracking and pulling up all traffic through your home, including pizza deliveries.

One such public confirmation came in this week that reveals the extent of who is opening our opened emails….

ZDNet reports that multiple federal agencies can read every email or social networking message you opened in the last year, but lawmakers would like it to stop:

Any email or social networking message you’ve opened that’s more than six months old can also be accessed by every law enforcement official in government — without needing to get a warrant. That’s because a key provision in a law almost three decades’ old allows this kind of access with a mere subpoena, which doesn’t require a judge.

That includes every email or message you opened last year, and earlier. (Anything under that six-month period still requires a warrant, however.)

Supposedly requires a warrant…

But this provision includes all agencies of law enforcement – even the IRS!

Perhaps it is because of Snowden’s public confirmations of similar privacy violations run amok, that Congress is at least ostensibly paying attention. Hundreds of lawmakers are calling for some type of change – to kill warrantless email searches.

But…

The committee that would get the bill, dubbed the Email Privacy Act, to the House floor for a vote hasn’t yet picked it up.

The warrantless email search reform bill was originally introduced in 2013, but stalled in a bureaucratic session despite passing the various congressional committees. The proposed law aims to fix the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which is still in effect despite falling behind the curve of the digital age, and has the support from privacy groups and major technology companies alike.

The House version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS, 3rd), has been popular, engendering support from 280 co-sponsors (over half of the House), including Rep. Thomas Massie.

“Naturally, the federal agencies who rely on keeping ECPA intact are not pleased,” ZDNet reports.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which regulates the banks and financial institutions, cannot issue warrants but instead issues subpoenas for emails and messages older than six-months. The agency has been accused of standing in the way of meaningful legislative reform in order to keep its somewhat limited powers.

The bill would be anticipated to pass if it were up for a vote today – it is stalled as two chairman have yet to set a date. Keep track of the current version of the bill here, and contact your Representatives.

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