US Panel Approves a Bill to Safeguard E-Mail

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would strengthen privacy protection for e-mails by requiring law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant from a judge in most cases before gaining access to messages in individual accounts stored electronically.The bill is not expected to make it through Congress this year and will be the subject of negotiations next year with the Republican-led House. But the Senate panel’s approval was a first step toward an overhaul of a 1986 law that governs e-mail access and that is widely seen as outdated.

Under the law, authorities need to obtain a search warrant from a judge — requiring them to meet the high standard of showing that there is probable cause to believe that a subject is engaged in wrongdoing — only when they want to read e-mails that have not yet been opened by their recipient and that are fewer than 180 days old.

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