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Congressmen Push Email Privacy Act

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Jul 27, 2004 9:52 AM PDT    Text size: 
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Four members of the U.S. House of Representatives last week introduced the Email Privacy Act for congressional consideration.

The proposed law would stiffen the eavesdropping statutes already on the books, and “modernize America's privacy laws,” stated Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., a cosponsor of the bill.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are endorsing the anti-snooping legislation. The other congressmen sponsoring the measure are Roscoe Bartlett, R-Mass., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and William Delahunt, D-Mass.

The new law stems from a federal case that was thrown out of court June 30 by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. An email provider had been charged with violating federal wiretapping laws by reading electronic mail that was meant for customers of Amazon.com.

Bradford Councilman, who was vice president of an online bookseller, gave some of his clients valuable commercial information he gleaned from saved emails that Amazon.com had sent to rare and used book dealers.

The case could be considered a form of 21st century commercial espionage; however,by a 2-to-1 majority, the appellate court dismissed the charges against Councilman based on anti-wiretapping laws. The court found that the existing federal laws distinguished between communications in transit, as opposed to those that are stored.

The 1st Circuit said the current Wiretap Act as it currently exists may be “out of step with the technological realities of computer crimes.” The court noted that making any changes to the ban was something that was up to Congress, not the courts.

Enter the congressmen and their proposed legislation to update 20th century laws so that they will be compatible with 21st high-tech telecommunications.

The bill would make the electronic snooping Councilman had been charged with a federal crime.

The Email Privacy Act stipulates that Internet providers could intercept email only “to the extent the access is a necessary incident to the rendition of the service, the protection of the rights or property of the provider of that service,” or to be in compliance with a government request.

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