The fine folks in Washington have decided it might be about time to update the law that lets cops read your old emails, Facebook photos, and other stored electronic communications without a warrant. You know, the one that was passed 26 years ago, before most people even had email, let alone Facebook.
In a surprising bout of common sense, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning voted in favor of an overhaul of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, or ECPA. The changes, authored by committee chair Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, would require authorities to show probable cause that you’ve committed a crime before they can go snooping through all your online personal information. As it stands, any personal information you have in the cloud—like Gmail messages, Flickr photos, files saved on Dropbox—becomes fair game for law enforcement to acquire from your Internet service provider once it’s been stored for six months or more. If the same information were on your hard drive or printed out, police would need a warrant to obtain it.