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DoJ backs rewriting of law that lets police read emails

The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it supports rewriting 26-year-old legislation that has allowed US law enforcement officials to read a person's emails without a search warrant so long as the email is older than six months or already opened.

The law has long been criticized by privacy advocates as a loophole when it comes to protecting Americans from government snooping.

"There is no principled basis to treat email less than 180 days old differently than email more than 180 days old," Elana Tyrangiel, acting assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy, told a House judiciary subcommittee. She also said emails deserve the same legal protections whether they have been opened or not.

Tyrangiel's testimony gives Congress a starting point as it begins to review a complicated 1986 law known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Written at a time before the internet was popularized and before many Americans used Yahoo or Google servers to store their emails indefinitely, the law allows federal authorities to obtain a subpoena approved by a federal prosecutor – not a judge – to access electronic messages older than 180 days.

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