• Why Warrantless Wire-Tapping Bill Hasn’t Moved
  • December 8, 2015
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • More than 300 House members have signed on as cosponsors of the Email Privacy Act, which would require that police obtain a search warrant before accessing emails, Facebook messages and other private online content. It has support from ultra conservatives and progressives and it is supported by Internet giants like Google and Yahoo. Despite all of this, the bill is stuck in committee after three years of debate.

    There is one reason why one of the most popular bills in Congress hasn't made it to the floor - Bob Goodlatte. Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), who is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, opposes the bill and his power gives him the ability to prevent it from moving forward.

    Goodlatte said in a hearing this week that while he supports the "core" of the bill, he is demanding changes to it to make sure it doesn't hamper law enforcement efforts.

    Under the current Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in 1986, the government can seize emails that have been opened or are more than 180 days old without judicial approval. The assumption being that if a person had not downloaded and deleted an email within six months then it could be considered abandoned.

    Supporters of the bill say that current law is vastly outdated and say that currently more protections are afforded to a letter in a filing cabinet than an email on a server.

    Goodlatte, however, says that Congress needs to protect the "legitimate needs of law enforcement" by including a provision in the bill that would provide for exemptions in the cases of emergencies and other circumstances.

    Goodlatte is also concerned that the bill would require police to serve the criminal suspect with the warrant instead of serving the suspect's email provider.

    In the Senate, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced counterpart legislation that received a hearing in September. Like in the House, however, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has not yet scheduled a mark up on the bill and has voiced concerns about how the bill could impact law enforcement.