The House Judiciary Committee next month will try to advance legislation to reform and modernize the way the government accesses private emails, particularly those stored longer than 180 days.
The panel is planning to vote on the Email Privacy Act, which would update an electronic communications law dating back to 1986, when far fewer people owned computers and when email was practically nonexistent.
Privacy groups have been clamoring for Congress to update the current law, which they say includes a loophole allowing easier government access to old emails stored remotely in a system people refer to as the "cloud."
The bill being called up would mandate that government and law enforcement officers obtain warrants for all emails stored in the cloud, among other reforms. It would also require prompt notification if a person's communications have been disclosed after obtaining a warrant.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he aims to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote after consideration by his committee.
"It's clear that the law needs to be modernized and updated to ensure it keeps pace with ever-changing technologies so that we protect Americans' constitutional rights and provide law enforcement with the tools they need for criminal investigations in the digital age," Goodlatte said Wednesday.
Most law enforcement and and government entities already seek warrants for emails, electronic privacy experts have noted. The bill would codify the requirement and extend it to the cloud, which is typically used to store old emails.
There is some government opposition to the proposal. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is not authorized to issue warrants, says the legislation will hinder their investigations.
"The bill in its current form would harm the ability of the SEC and other civil law enforcement agencies to protect those we are mandated to protect and to hold accountable those we are responsible for holding accountable," Andrew Ceresney, the SEC's Division of Enforcement director, told the Judiciary Committee in December.
When asked about the SEC objections, Judiciary Committee spokesperson Jessica Collins said, "we continue to work with members and stakeholders on the bill and look forward to moving it soon through committee."