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Senate committee passes e-mail privacy legislation

WASHINGTON — Over the objections of law enforcement officials, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday backed legislation that would require police to obtain a search warrant to review e-mails and other electronic communications.

Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a warrant is needed only for e-mails less than six months old.

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The committee chairman and the bill’s sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said digital files should have the same safeguards as paper files. Americans ‘‘face even greater threats to their digital privacy, as we witness the explosion of new technologies and the expansion of the government’s surveillance powers,’’ Leahy said.

The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill next year. A House committee has not yet voted on a similar bill.

Civil liberties groups applauded, saying the law is outdated in an era of cloud computing, cheap electronic storage, social networking, and wireless phones. Such technology has dramatically increased the volume of stored data.

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