No Warrant, No Problem: U.S. Senate Drops Amendment Requiring a Warrant to Search Private Emails
Just when you thought it was safe to send your friends funny chimpanzee videos. Recently, the U.S. Senate presented President Obama with an amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act that would allow Netflix to override the act’s prohibition of disclosing one’s video rentals without expressed consent and automatically posting them to the individual’s Facebook timeline — essentially letting the world know you rented Battlefield Earth on more than one occasion. In addition to this was a second amendment to a different act that, if signed, required the federal government to obtain a warrant before searching email and other content stored in the cloud. Approved not too long ago by the Senate Judiciary Committee, this amendment was cut from the legislative package, granting the feds carte blanche to continue to rummage through your private messages should it prove conducive to an investigation.
This unexpected — and currently unexplained — measure caused an uproar among critics and the general public alike, all labeling this as evidence of the government catering to the special interests of larger and more influential entities than the American people. As it now stands, the federal government can read and gather emails and related content from the cloud granted that it has been stored on a third party server for a period of 180 days or more. From there, federal agents need only to say that, basically on a hunch, that the information proves instrumental in an investigation.
Legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, Chris Calabrese, has critiqued the omission of the digital privacy amendment, stating in a telephone interview with Wired that, “If Netflix is going to get an update to the privacy law, we think the American people should get an update to the privacy law.”
Calabrese strongly supports reformations made to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, originally pushed forward by Vermont senator Patrick Leahy, stipulating that officials could only access one’s emails only if there is credible reason that the person in question is linked to a crime and resultant investigation. So far, it appears that certain lawmakers within the government do not support this amendment, for whatever reason.