Leahy’s bill would amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Adopted when CompuServe was king, ECPA allows the government to acquire a suspect’s e-mail or other stored content from an internet service provider without showing probable cause that a crime was committed, as long as the content had been stored on a third-party server for 180 days or more.
EPCA, whose main sponsor 25 years ago was Leahy, was adopted at a time when e-mail, for example, wasn’t stored on servers for a long time. Instead it was held there briefly on its way to the recipient’s inbox. E-mail more than 6 months old was assumed abandoned, and that’s why the law allowed the government to get it. At the time there wasn’t much of any e-mail to get because a consumer’s hard drive — not the cloud — was their inbox.
But technology has evolved, and e-mail often remains stored on cloud servers indefinitely, in gigabytes upon gigabytes — meaning the authorities may access it without warrants if it’s older than six months.
The same rule also applies to content stored in the cloud. That includes files saved in DropBox, communications in Facebook, and Google Docs cloud-storage accounts. Such personal storage capabilities were nearly inconceivable when President Ronald Reagan signed the bill.