Slate: Our Inboxes, Ourselves by Mike Godwin
An ancient email privacy law might finally be updated. Congress needs to get it right.
A federal law protects some of your email from government snooping without a warrant. But it doesn’t protect your email if it’s been left on a server for too long, and, worse, it doesn’t protect your metadata—information that can get you arrested and prosecuted, that can reveal intimate secrets about you, and that would expose the entire network of people you talk to. On Wednesday the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to address the first problem, but reform efforts in both houses of Congress have largely passed over the second issue. In dodging the problem of metadata, legislators have missed the forest for the twigs.
The lawmakers who want to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 mean well, and it’s significant that they recognize how that in 2015, email stored long-term on a server is just as deserving of Fourth Amendment protections as letters locked away for years in a drawer. But the scope of what government will still be able to glean from our mail without a warrant is far broader nowadays than it ever was in the pre-Internet era.