For a number of years, law enforcement officers have been able to access cell phone and email records with little more than a faxed form. This was brought into sharp focus by the scandal that caused General Petraeus to resign as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Judiciary Committee acted earlier today (November 30, 2012) to approve House Resolution 2471 to amend federal electronic communications legislation to require a warrant issued by a judge before law enforcement officers can access stored communications.
It is important to notice that this is not likely to prevent access to stored communications in appropriate cases. The standard before a judge is whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred and that evidence of that crime will be found by accessing the communications records.
What it will prevent is unsupervised fishing expeditions into records and communications which the average person considers to be personal and private.
It will restore judicial oversight to the process and allow trial courts to evaluate whether the warrant was providently granted.
Hopefully, Congress will act to follow the lead set by Senator Patrick Leahy who is the sponsor of this legislation.