Think your email is private? Think again

Posted at 10:59 AM, Mar 28, 2016

(NBC NEWS) The F.B.I.'s efforts to get a judge to order apple to unlock an encrypted phone in a terrorism investigation have been in the news a lot lately.

But there is a huge email privacy loophole affecting most of us that some in Congress are hoping to close this year.

Chances are you know nothing about it.

Police can look at any email that's more than six months old and never tell you about it.

Some states have already acted to close the loophole.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act requires a judge's permission for authorities to look at emails, photos or documents you have stored online if they're less than six months old.

But in most cases, police can look at older emails without your knowledge.

"Because its digital information and it's on a server the government treats it with less protection," said Congressman Kevin Yoder of Kansas.

Congressman Yoder's bipartisan bill would require a warrant to look at any email no matter how old it is.

Five states already require that in most cases. Nine more are considering it.

Police prefer one federal law.

"Let's have a uniformity of practice. At least give us some rumble strips within which we can operate," said Jonathan Thompson of the National Sheriff's Association.

Large companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo typically require a warrant to protect your personal information.

"We need to start there - but I think we need to go beyond that again - to provide additional protections for emails users and consumers," said Alan Butler of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Privacy experts are worried the federal bill does not give enough protection. They say courts have said when warrants are issued - the email account holder does not have to be notified.

They suggest checking with the company that holds your email to see what their rules are.