SEC defends email privacy practices

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) defended its practice of obtaining e-mails older than 180 days without a warrant.

SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White told the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services that her agency protects people’s privacy when it uses subpoenas -- rather than warrants, which have a higher burden of proof -- to access emails.

Under the Electronic Privacy Communications Act, law enforcement officials do not need a warrant to access electronic communications that have been stored for more than three months. Attempts to update that law -- including from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Reps Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Tom Graves (R-GA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) -- have been largely supported by law enforcement agencies but have faced backlash from civil agencies, like the SEC.

Rep Yoder asked why law enforcement agencies need a warrant to access physical documents but not electronic communications.

“Paper documents versus the file folders contained in our email accounts all seem to ... have Fourth Amendment protections,” he said. As a civil agency, the SEC relies on subpoenas, not warrants, to obtain information for its investigations, SEC Chairwoman White said. She told Rep Yoder that the SEC’s investigatory practices have built-in privacy protections.

SEC defends email privacy practices