The House of Representatives approved, by a rare unanimous vote of 419-0, a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas that would prohibit the government from obtaining private emails without a warrant.
The Email Privacy Act united Democrats and Republicans and was strongly endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Yoder, the legislation’s chief sponsor, attracted a whopping 314 co-sponsors.
“Today is a great day for the Constitution. It’s a great day for the spirit of bipartisanship in this chamber,” Yoder said in remarks on the House floor. “It’s a great day for Americans everywhere who use modern technology, such as emails and text-messages and cellphones, to communicate with one another.”
Yoder’s bill updates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which inspired references to “Top Gun” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” popular movies of the time, and Halley’s Comet, which made its once-in-76-years appearance that year.
“Cabbage Patch dolls were flying off the shelves,” Yoder said on the House floor.
“The last time we updated these laws, I was flipping burgers at McDonald’s,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters. “I was borrowing my neighbor’s Apple II Plus to write my school reports ... a glorified word processor.”
Yoder noted that only 10 million Americans had email accounts in 1986, compared with 232 million today. It was also six years before first text message was sent and 12 years before Google was founded.
According to the ACLU, the government protects the information you keep in your desk, but not the information that you store online, including old emails and pictures.
In 2010, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the government must obtain a search warrant before secretly searching and seizing stored private emails.
“Today, we restore the Fourth Amendment,” Yoder said. “We treat digital information just like paper information.”
A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is moving through the Senate. It currently has 26 cosponsors, including Kansas Republican Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts.