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SJC Approves Leahy-Lee Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday favorably reported bipartisan legislation coauthored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to protect the privacy of emails, texts, social media posts and other electronic communications. Both Senators hailed the Committee's strong bipartisan support of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013, which updates one of the Nation's most important digital privacy laws.

"All Americans -- regardless of political party affiliation or ideology -- care about their privacy rights," said Leahy, an author of the original 1986 ECPA law. "That is why Senator Lee and I are joined in this effort by a broad coalition of more than 100 privacy, civil liberties, civil rights and tech industry leaders from across the political spectrum in supporting the privacy updates contained in this bill."

"Reforming ECPA to protect legitimate privacy rights is not a partisan issue," said Senator Lee. "I'm pleased to be working closely with Chairman Leahy to help ensure that all Americans can be confident that the government may not access their email or other electronic communications without a warrant."

The Leahy-Lee Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013 establishes a search warrant requirement in order for the government to obtain the content of Americans' emails and other electronic communications, when those communications are stored with a third-party service provider. The bill eliminates the outdated "180-day" rule that calls for different legal standards for the government to obtain email content depending upon the age of an email, and it requires that the government notify an individual whose electronic communications have been disclosed within 10 days of obtaining a search warrant. The Committee also on Thursday adopted two amendments to the bill; a technical amendment offered by Chairman Leahy to clarify the rule of construction, and an amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) requiring the Comptroller General to conduct a review of the use of the law.

ECPA reform was the subject of two Committee hearings in recent years, and the Senate Judiciary Committee last November favorably reported legislation substantially similar to the Leahy-Lee bill. In January, Leahy said that updating ECPA was his top privacy priority for the 113th Congress.

"When I led the effort to write ECPA 27 years ago, email was a novelty," said Leahy. "Three decades later, we must update this law, so that the law protects our privacy rights and keeps pace with innovation and the challenging mission of law enforcement. I look forward to the Senate now considering this important legislation."

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