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This article was published on April 29, 2016

Email bill passing Congress is a great start, but it’s still not enough

Email bill passing Congress is a great start, but it’s still not enough
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

We’re one step closer to email being treated as private communication, a distinction that would require government entities acquire a search warrant to read emails — even those older than 180 days.

The 180 day mark is currently the point where the federal government insists that email is “abandoned” on servers and, more or less, the digital equivalent of grabbing something out of a public garbage can. Of course, the rest of us live with the knowledge that archived email is no more abandoned than images you might store on a hard drive, or in the cloud.

Gmail, in particular, takes a ‘no email left behind’ approach by encouraging users to archive — rather than delete — old messages.

Until now, the Stored Communications Act (SCA) — a piece of Reagan-era legislation that predates modern email — ruled the roost and essentially called the shots when it came to government entities’ ability to read electronic mail.

With yesterday’s approval, the SCA’s predecessor — the Email Privacy Act (EPA) — is a step closer to becoming reality. Prior to yesterday, I had some concerns. Now, with a unanimous 419-0 vote in the House — the very place the bill typically died —  I feel relatively confident that the bill has legs.

Next, it’s all about getting this long-overdue piece of legislation in front of the Senate for a vote, and then signed into law by President Obama before leaving office in January.

Overall, it’s a great start.

Legislation that helps the government catch up, and better regulate how its citizens use technology is sorely needed. Reagan-era email bills, the All Writs Act (written in 1789) and a handful of other attempts at modern governance through archaic laws do nothing but prove that without legislation for the times we live in, we’re all just sort of making it up as we go along.