Senators Push For Warrant Protections For Documents of US Residents Stored Overseas


The International Communications Privacy Act, a new bill introduced Wednesday by three senators, aims to close a loophole that allows law enforcement agencies to request emails and other electronic documents without warrants.

The new bill would require U.S. law enforcement agencies to obtain court-ordered warrants before demanding for the emails of the country’s residents when they are stored overseas.

“We need also to recognize the critical importance of data privacy on an international scale,” said Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and lead sponsor of the new bill. “Given the globalization of the Internet and electronic communications, Congress must also act to safeguard data throughout the world from unauthorized law enforcement access,” he added.

Congress has been working since 2010 to rework the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a law that sets down rules for law enforcement access to electronic communications, but the focus has been on requiring warrants for emails and other communications stored in the cloud for longer than 180 days.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Justice believes it can compel cloud vendors and other companies holding data outside the U.S. to turn over customer data without a warrant, said Hatch.

Under U.S. law, police need warrants to get their hands on paper files in a suspect’s home or office and on electronic files stored on his computer or in the cloud for less than 180 days. But under ECPA, police agencies need only a subpoena, not reviewed by a judge, to demand files stored in the cloud or with other third-party providers for longer than 180 days.