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DOJ To Police: Get a Warrant for Older E-mails

March 20, 2013  | 

The Department of Justice has dropped its support for allowing law enforcement to review older e-mails without a warrant in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The committee is reviewing changes to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986—and its follow-up amendments, including the Stored Communications Act (SCA)—that would apply to content stored in the cloud. Under the current law, law enforcement agents can access e-mail older than 180 days without a warrant becuase it is considered to be "abandonded."

Acting Assistant Attorney General Elana Tyrangiel told the committee the DOJ no longer supports law enforcement officials making that distinction. Tyrangiel said the act has "failed to keep up with the development of technology," and the so-called "180-day rule" should no longer apply.

"Some have suggested that the best way to enhance privacy under the SCA would be to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant based on probable cause to compel disclosure of stored e-mail and similar stored content information from a service provider," she said. "We appreciate the appeal of this approach and believe that it has considerable merit."

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