POLITICS
03/07/2013 12:33 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2013

Online Privacy Bill Introduced In House Of Representatives

NEW YORK -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced a bill on Wednesday to force the FBI to get a warrant before it snoops on emails.

The bill, called the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act, would reform a 1986 law that allows law enforcement to issue a simple administrative subpoena for the content of electronic communications. It would also require cops to get a warrant when they want cell phone location data -- an increasingly relevant concern as smartphones track our every move.

The bill is sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), all members of the House Judiciary Committee.

"Fourth Amendment protections don't stop at the Internet. Americans expect Constitutional protections to extend to their online communications and location data," Lofgren said in a statement. "Establishing a warrant standard for government access to cloud and geolocation provides Americans with the privacy protections they expect."

Lofgren and other lawmakers have tried before to reform the confusing welter of rules around warrant requirements for online data, which can vary widely between federal judicial circuits. Law enforcement concerns that the higher standards for warrants will slow down investigations, however, have proven to be a significant stumbling block.

Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office, praised the bill.

"Law enforcement should need the same standard to search your inbox or track your every move that they would to search your house," he said. "New technologies can be incredibly powerful but also incredibly invasive. They need strong controls."

Calabrese predicted that prospects for the bill's passage in the House would rest with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Goodlatte has signaled his openness to modernizing the underlying Electronic Communications Privacy Act that tells police when they need a warrant for email.

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