WHY DOES CONGRESS HAVE TO PASS A LAW TO PROTECT OUR EMAIL?

On Friday I got this email from my congressman, Rob Wittman. It left me a bit confused. Wittman is not a bad congressman, and I suppose he should have voted for the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699). I just wonder why it was necessary.

Rob_WittmanYou know that email you’ve been saving? The one from your dad … or co-worker … or best friend … or daughter? The one they thought only you would see? The one YOU thought only you would see? Well, as the law stands now, law enforcement officials could have legal access to that email without so much as a warrant.

Maybe that surprises you, or maybe it doesn’t. But the fact is that as technology has expanded, the law hasn’t. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the primary law governing email privacy, was passed in 1986—before most of us even knew that email existed. Since then, only minimal reforms have been made to the ECPA, and vulnerabilities in the law have raised significant digital privacy concerns for the public.

It’s not hard to see that the world is evolving around us. We have access to technology that didn’t exist 10 or 5 or even 2 years ago, and that’s a great thing. Technology gives us the opportunity to better ourselves and the world around us. It helps us to connect with people all around the globe in ways we never could have imagined were possible. But tech developments shouldn’t come at the cost of individual privacy and security. The way we protect information should be reflective of the way that we store and share information.

Last week, the House voted 419 to 0, with my support, in favor of the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699), a bill that would revise the ECPA to require law enforcement agencies to obtain search warrants before gaining access to personal messages and files stored by companies like Google, Yahoo, and Dropbox. Right now, agencies can gain access to emails and other digital files more than 90 days old by issuing subpoenas to technology companies—a very low standard for gaining access to information. This legislation would require law enforcement officers to secure a judge-issued warrant before gaining access to digital information stored in the cloud.

The Email Privacy Act represents the first major update to our digital privacy laws in three decades, and it’s past time for us to make a change. The choice between privacy and technology is a false one. The Fourth Amendment, the Constitutional provision that guarantees privacy and designates it as a fundamental liberty, is strong enough to safeguard our rights in every situation. We have to make sure that our laws conform to that standard, and I believe that the Email Privacy Act takes positive steps in that direction.

Here is the  Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I am no legal scholar, but is there such a big a difference between snail mail and email that judges think snooping into our snail mail requires a warrant, but an email doesn’t? Don’t our presidents nominate these judges? Doesn’t our Senate consent to their appointment? Then why do we need this law?

Technology should free us to do things our ancestors never even imagined.  Today we can fly. We have visited the moon. Perhaps our grandchildren will settle other planets in our solar system. Who knows? Is it possible that some day Americans will journey to distant stars? Maybe not. Some of those who rule us care about us, but we also have many perverse leaders, and we have the people who vote for them. Instead of protecting our rights and furthering our dreams, too many of those who rule us seek to spend every cent we have, and then they spy on us. They have to make certain they have us under control. How can we dream of reaching the stars when our own rulers seek to bind and enslave us?

You have a congressmen or a senator who is more interested in spending your money than he is in protecting your rights? Have you considered voting for someone else?

18 thoughts on “WHY DOES CONGRESS HAVE TO PASS A LAW TO PROTECT OUR EMAIL?

  1. The phrase “unreasonable searches and siezures” is not defined in the Constitution. Just like “natural born citizen.” No one has objected to the role of the law and the courts working out what is “unreasonable” — but recently, we’ve seen a flurry of folks who have decided that noting later than the date of the Constitution can define “natural born citizen.”

    Were we to use that same approach, nothing after 1789 could be used, and thus the only searches and seizures prohibited would be those called out as unreasonable in the Law of Nations. That venerable document does not ban electronic eavesdropping nor theft, so those would be fair game.

    It seems that this sort of approach to the law and Constitution would be cruel and unusual punishment — but that’s another undefined phrase that is being contended over right now.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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  2. There is the term “effects” which the dictionary defines as “goods; movables; personal property.” That should cover things like email and cell phones. Frankly, I don’t think our leaders have an excuse, and I don’t thing we as a people have any excuse for letting them get away with this nonsense.

    Here are several random articles that consider that aspect of the issue.
    http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2013/08/the-papers-and-effects-on-your-cell-phone-may-not-be-as-private-as-you-think/

    http://www.yalelawjournal.org/article/the-lost-effects-of-the-fourth-amendment

    http://www.libertylawsite.org/2013/06/20/the-fourth-amendment-in-the-21st-century-the-modern-equivalent-of-papers-and-effects/

    The point of the Fourth Amendment was to keep the Feds from bothering us unless they had a good reason to look into what one of us had been up to. Even in this day and age, the amendment is explicit.

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  3. Ah, the question many ask but only after the fact.Why does this elected/appointed official act so _ _ _ _ ? To bad more hard questions are not asked before hand. In the case of this bill it is necessary because our right to privacy was constantly being ignored and abused.

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    1. @Mike Poirier

      Thank you for visiting.

      When the IRS was used to harass Tea Party Conservatives, that was a warning. We should have little doubt that given the opportunity some of our leaders are willing to use the power of government to silence their opponents. What they need first is to accurately identify their opponents. Hence they gather information on phone calls and emails.

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  4. As I understand it, the law is that law enforcement–and really anyone suing you actually–can subpoena your emails regarding an incident or occurrence that is the subject matter of prosecution or litigation. This law would merely make email the sort of thing you need a warrant to receive like other PII.

    I can see why Rob Whitman wants to make this into a big deal; he has to run for reelection sometime. But for the average rank and file not conducting illegal activity through email, this does little to actually affect our lives.

    You can look at this one of two ways. You can look at this like the sky is falling and the whole country is ruined OR you can look at this as the legislature doing its job to ensure the rights of citizens under the fourth amendment remain secure. In other words, we can either freak out for no reason–unless your emails are currently being subpoenaed–or we can praise our lawmakers for looking out for us and dealing with an issue we weren’t aware of until now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @mastersamwise

      Because I can’t see that he has done all that much to defend our rights, my praise of my congressman tends to be lukewarm. I don’t see Wittman as a problem, and I don’t see him as the solution. He doesn’t attack Conservatives, and he asks for our support. Generally, he votes the right way, but I have not seen much fight in him.

      So do I think the sky is falling or our legislature is doing its job? If I did not believe God was in control, I would be scared to death.

      Congress cannot even pass a budget, and we are suppose to believe Congress is properly doing its job?

      Anyway, so long as God is in heaven, I suppose we can retain a sense of humor. So on a related subject => https://insanitybytes2.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/how-to-keep-the-nsa-amused/

      Never forget why Congress is dealing with this problem. Our government has gotten caught spying on us. Too many people are beginning to figure out our leaders will abuse their authority.

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      1. If you are in Wittman’s district, ask him to do a congressional inquiry into the DC National Guard. Just a tip.

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        1. Can’t really say much more. Just waste, fraud, and abuse.

          Did you know that the DC Guard is the only federal national guard, as in the “governor” is the President. Therefore, the fed has access to Title 32 forces that can be activated and not violate posse comitatus. This is why the brouhaha over things like Jade Helm were rediculous. It would take a simple act of congress to transfer Title 10 forces into the DC Guard and form a force that could easily overwhelm state forces.

          But that isn’t the issue. The issue is waste, fraud, and abuse.

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        2. This is from the Constitution.

          Article. IV., Section. 4.

          The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.

          If our president wanted to send Federal troops into a state, this is the excuse he would use. Think American Civil War. Lincoln did not cite this clause, civil war is what is involved.

          If you have proof or reasonable cause to believe that the DC Guard is corrupt, then publish it online or send it to a reputable news outlet.

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        3. My paragraph about title 32 is purely theoretical. Under the Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act, Title 10 forces are prohibited from police action to enforce domestic policy. Title 32 forces may be used, however, under these acts with complete legality. Underneath these acts, it only requires the president to declare a state of emergency in order to deploy Title 32 forces against American citizens to enforce whatever policy he chooses. Consider the Little Rock Nine.

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  5. 4th amendment. they just have to be willing to enforce it. they won’t. it’d not the same country as the founders founded. -kia

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