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Apparently, there are members of the U.S. Senate who still respect the U.S. Constitution. Who knew?!?

Ah, it's always nice to deliver good news... especially when it's on top of other good news. After the coup de grâce delivered yesterday by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to the privacy-killing CISPA bill spawned in the House earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee (chaired by Senator Pat Leahy) piled on by passing an amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) enacted back in 1986. The law woefully needed revised and updated.

As currently written, the law allows the government to read emails older than six-months old, already opened, or marked as 'Read' with a subpoena signed only by a federal prosecutor. Emails newer than six-months old requires a subpoena signed by a judge. So, pretty much all emails are fair game for the government at one time or another.  

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed a bipartisan measure that would force U.S. law enforcement and government agencies to get a warrant before reading citizen emails.

The vote, which was passed unanimously by members on both sides of the Senate, will be seen as a huge boost for privacy. The provisions would amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), first signed in 1986 during a time where email was still reserved for the technological bourgeois.

The amendment, jointly written by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), requires the government to inform a U.S. resident when their email has been disclosed via a search warrant.

That, my friends... is a good thing to know.

Unfortunately, good news does have it's limitations.

There are two exceptions: one would be if a National Security Letter "gagging order" has been issued, which may not exist by the time this bill is voted upon, after a U.S. district court found such orders in breach of the First Amendment. The other would be to prevent tipping off a suspect of an investigation by delaying such a notice.

The changes to ECPA would still allow some data to be released under subpoena, such as the date and time of when a communication was made, and the name, address and IP address to access some corporate communication data.

The amendment will also prohibit companies that hold email communications — such as Microsoft, Google, and Apple, among others — from "voluntarily disclosing the contents of its customers' email or other electronic communications to the government."

The blow to CISPA avoids a potential clash with the amendment to the ECPA. The language in the cybersecurity bill included a provision that said, "notwithstanding any other provision of law," so if enacted, CISPA could have negated the longstanding ECPA regardless of any update or revision.

The full Senate still has to pass the amendment, and then it will have to go back to the House where very few pieces of good (for the people) legislation make it out alive. But it looks like we dodged a bullet this time, folks.

Props to both Senator Rockefeller and Senator Leahy.  

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