What Developers Need to Know about the Email Privacy Act

April 19, 2016 - 2 minutes read

Email Privacy Act

Did you know that emails older than 180 days are available to federal officials without a search warrant? This is a surprising fact to most of us, particularly given the very public debate over mobile encryption taking place thanks to the Apple vs. FBI case.

While the general public tends to view their email inboxes as a lock-and-key safebox, mobile app developers know better than anyone that the environment for digital privacy is far more complicated than just passwords and encryption.

Luckily, the lack of fine print over what can be considered “private” within digital communications is soon to be nailed down by the controversial but long-awaited Email Privacy Act. The measure just passed the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, and with the support of the house should soon make its way through the legislative and executive branches to become law.

Mobile app developers and technologists are breathing a sigh of relief, but the details of the act are still sure to ruffle feathers on both sides of the digital privacy and government surveillance debate. Here are the highlights that matter most to tech companies and mobile app developers:

1. Warrants will only have to be required against email hosts, not targets

The bill isn’t without some amendments, to most notable being that warrants will be granted against the email hosts themselves rather than individual suspects and targets. The thinking here is clearly that it will prevent a target from knowing they’re being searched. In spite of this, most San Francisco mobile app developers and major companies like Facebook and Microsoft are granting their support.

2. Currently, subpoenas are still required for accessing digital communications

While warrants aren’t currently required until the Email Privacy Act becomes law, it’s worth noting that there isn’t a personal data free-for-all going on. Subpoenas are still necessary if the government wants to access your old emails.

3. Opened vs. unopened emails will be granted the same privacy rights

Early proposals favored granting less protection to opened emails than unopened ones, but luckily pressure from tech companies and the general public seems to have taken that distinction off the table.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,