Updating the Video Privacy Protection Act, the US Congress passed a new bill on Christmas Eve that will let you automatically share your Netflix viewing history on your Facebook profile. Before approving the document, however, the US Senate cut a separate amendment to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act that would have required federal law enforcement to obtain a warrant before monitoring email.
The email-related provision was attached the Video Privacy Protection Act Amendments Act (not a typo, unfortunately) and was approved last month by the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to AllGov. Along with protecting US citizens from warrantless email monitoring, the amendment is said to have covered other data stored remotely. It's unclear why the privacy protections were removed at the last minute.
Currently, the federal government can access any email or data stored on a third-party server for longer than 180 days, as long as it can demonstrate that it has "reasonable grounds to believe" the data would be helpful in an investigation. Considering those loose requirements and how close the nixed amendment came to landing on President Obama's desk, many privacy advocates are ticked about the move.
"Changes to electronic privacy cannot happen piecemeal," Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union said. "If we are to achieve true reform – which means getting full protection for Americans' inboxes and private communication – we cannot give priority to special interests." "If Netflix is going to get an update to the privacy law, we think the American people should get an update to the privacy law."
Although Senator Patrick Leahy is surely unhappy about his email provision being dropped, a Democratic aide speaking to BuzzFeed reports that Leahy has "always known that it would need to be a multi-year effort, but that getting a vote in November on his email privacy protections would keep the momentum going. It was known by everyone that it would not pass in the lame-duck session, especially in the House."