Congress should strengthen privacy protections

Congress should strengthen privacy protections.

The U.S. Constitution mentions nothing specifically called “a right to privacy.” Instead, courts and constitutional scholars have interpreted the Constitution to include such a right, but the lack of specific language creates uncertainty about the ability of the government to access our personal information.

As noted by reporter Joshua Lindenstein in this edition, the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act created a loophole in privacy laws, meaning that one cannot assume a reasonable expectation of privacy for electronic communications that are more than 180 days old.

In an era where emails, text messages and other communications can last indefinitely, that isn’t much.

Enter U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and the proposed Email Privacy Act, which “would require federal law-enforcement agencies to acquire a probable-cause warrant before accessing citizens’ emails, text messages, photos and other content stored in the cloud by third-party providers.”

Government agencies have come under fire in the wake of leaks by contractor Edward Snowden and others. Through all the debate about the propriety of Snowden’s leaks, one thing is certain: Government has overreached, and privacy laws must be strengthened.

Polis is the lead Democrat supporting the Email Privacy Act, House Bill 1852. The bill remains with the House Judiciary Committee but has secured 211 co-sponsors and bipartisan support, Lindenstein reports.

As well it should. Polis warns that failure to strengthen U.S. privacy protections might cause consumers to turn to email providers from foreign countries with stronger privacy laws, costing American jobs.

Forcing government agencies, including law-enforcement bodies, to obtain a warrant seems like a reasonable hurdle, one that has worked well for more than 200 years with other search efforts.

It’s time for Congress to act, by bringing clarity to the right to privacy.

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