Five Signs the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is Asleep at the Wheel

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Posted by Dorothy Jetter on Friday, July 3rd, 2015, 10:00 AM PERMALINK


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) mission statement claims the agency "helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives."  
 
While the CFPB’s mission statement outlines a number of laudable goals, reports show the Bureau has all but failed in living up to them. Recently the Bureau has been riddled with controversy, yet through it all Director Richard Cordray has remained unresponsive to Congressional probes into the Bureau’s activities. This lack of accountability has led to a number of issues, calling into question the Bureau’s ability to function efficiently. The five most concerning issues at the CFPB are discussed below.  
  
1) Overspending
 
According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the CFPB budget is growing at a rapid and unsustainable pace.  The agency’s new office building is currently estimated to cost taxpayers $215 million—that’s $120 million more than initial estimates. The planned facilities will include extravagant amenities such as a glass staircase, concession kiosk and a “water wall” ending in a splash pool. According to John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the cost of the sprawling new facilities is “more per square foot than the Bellagio hotel-casino in Las Vegas.”
  
2) No Transparency or Accountability 
 
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling said the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, made the agency “unaccountable to taxpayers and to Congress.”  Unlike other government agencies the CFPB is not required to have their budget approved by Congress, although 78% of Americans believe that they should have to do so.  
 
In March, House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations Chairman Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) reintroduced a Consumer and Financial Protection Bureau reform package.  The legislation is a group of 5 bills that aim to promote both transparency and accountability at the CFPB by increasing Congressional oversight of the agency.  
  
3) Discrimination 
 
Despite the agency's "mission" to help and protect American consumers, the agency has been the subject of rampant accusations of discrimination.  Representative Duffy explains "of all the federal financial agencies, the CFPB has the worst track record of protecting its own employees against discrimination.” In fact, the per capita number of Equal Employment Opportunity complaints at the CFPB is far higher than at other federal agencies.  Specific reports even found CFPB officials went so far as to use derogatory language when referring to divisions with large numbers of minority employees.
 
4) Bulk Data Collection
 
The CFPB has recently introduced a program to obtain and monitor the credit card records of over 500 million Americans. The Agency has refused to consult with Congress on the program and will not let Americans opt out.  A majority of respondents (55%) believe the CFPB's data collection program is similar to or worse than the controversial NSA monitoring program.
 
5) Shunning Small Businesses
 
Ironically, as an agency designed to help the American consumer, the CFPB refuses to include the backbone of the U.S. economy in its discussions.  The House Financial Services reports that while trying to attend a Consumer Advisory Board meeting in Jackson Mississippi, Bobby Riggs, a small business owner, was turned away.  A CFPB official told Riggs, "We just don't allow anybody from the public into these meetings."
 
Congress has taken action to curb the CFPB’s questionable actions.  In May the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1195, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Advisory Boards Act. This legislation would create a Small Business Advisory Committee to ensure that the CFPB acknowledges and considers the concerns of small businesses.  Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has threatened to veto this legislation.

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Ted Eytan

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CEOs receive massive taxpayer-funded raises

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Posted by Kendyll Ferrall on Thursday, July 2nd, 2015, 4:15 PM PERMALINK


Ignoring objections from the White House and the U.S. Treasury Department, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) went ahead with its proposal to raise salaries for the chief executives of government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Despite the $600,000 salary cap implemented by the FHFA after public-criticism of the CEO’s seven-figure salaries, Freddie Mac CEO Donald Layton and Fannie Mae CEO Timothy J. Mayopolous are set to each receive $4 million a year. The six-fold salary increase came after Matt Melvin, the director of the FHFA, raised concerns over a competitive salary being necessary to maintain employees.

Bailed out by the government during the financial-market collapse in 2008 that the two mortgage companies helped to cause, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac received a combined $187.5 billion taxpayer-funded bailout, the largest bailout given during the crisis. Since the government takeover, there has been little progress made in reforming the U.S. financial housing market.

Mayopolous’ and Layton’s new salaries rival their previous private-sector salaries, but they are not private-sector employees. They are public servants and their salaries should not be comparable to that of private-market CEOs. While the companies have sent the Treasury $230 billion since their bailout, both firms have failed to make considerable progress in reforming or rehabilitating the U.S. housing finance market.

The pay-revamp comes after increasing uncertainty over whether or not Congress will make a decision about the companies any time soon. In 2014, the Senate Banking Committee passed a measure that would dissolve Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and replace them with a private-market solution. Backed by a bipartisan coalition, the measure was opposed by progressive Democrats and failed to make it to the Senate for a vote. Neither chamber is expected to take up the issue this year.

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House Committee Demands Emails About Oregon’s Failed $305 Million Obamacare Exchange

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Thursday, July 2nd, 2015, 2:01 PM PERMALINK


The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform earlier this month demanded the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hand over all documents related to Oregon’s failed $305 million Obamacare exchange, known as Cover Oregon.

The Letter sent to HHS “questions about the use of federal funds to develop Cover Oregon remain” amid allegations that control over the exchange was given to campaign consultants concerned with getting then-Gov. Kitzhaber reelected, not fixing the many faults of the system.

According to the Washington Times, the Committee “seeks all communication between employees for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) about the Oregon site, all documents related to the site’s functioning and a description of changes CMS made to its processes on grants and information technology related to federal and state Obamacare websites.”

Oregon received a total of $305,206,587 in federal grant money in order to construct its state-run exchange but failed to produce a workable website and later transferred all its enrollees to the federal system at an estimated cost of $41 million.

The website, which was officially abolished earlier this year enrolled just 68,308 individuals in its first year, mainly through paper applications, and failed to enroll a single individual weeks after the deadline. As a result, it could reach just 29% of its first year goal of 237,000 individuals.

Since then, the FBI, the HHS Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and Congress have all launched investigations into Oregon’s exchange. With millions of dollars flushed down the drain, taxpayers deserve to know the truth behind the Cover Oregon debacle.

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States sue over EPA's unprecedented land grab

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Posted by Kendyll Ferrall on Thursday, July 2nd, 2015, 11:00 AM PERMALINK


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a rough Monday.

Hours after the Supreme Court released its 5-4 ruling that struck down the EPA’s rule on mercury limits, which was a major cornerstone for the Obama Administration’s environmental agenda, 12 states filed a federal lawsuit against the agency and the Army Corp. of Engineers to block the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. 

Attorneys representing Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota and South Dakota submitted requests to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals asking for the rule to be thrown out before it takes effect in August.

Released in May, the final draft of the rule would essentially grant the federal government unfettered authority over waterways, allowing the EPA to regulate almost any piece of private land where water can conceivably flow. The finalized WOTUS rule came on the heels of the passage of H.R. 1732, The Regulatory Integrity Protection Act. Passed by a bipartisan coalition in the House, the bill would require the EPA to revoke the rule, but the EPA has ignored the vote.

The rule would result in a massive federal takeover of private property rights and includes bureaucratic red-tape, costly and time-consuming permit requirements, penalties and possible jail-time for failure to comply with the rule’s many requirements.

In addition to imposing unnecessary burdens on landowners, farmers, ranchers and small businesses, the states currently involved in the lawsuit argue that WOTUS violates the CWA and the U.S. Constitution. WOTUS disregards the distinction between federal authority and private or state landownership that was created under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA grants states certain jurisdiction over land and water within its boundaries.

While the EPA claims that the purpose of the rule is to clarify which waters are covered under the CWA, the states affected by the impending regulations believe that it will tremendously expand the regulatory authority of the EPA and the Corp. and is an impermissible expansion of power. WOTUS would allow the federal government to control vast portions of land from areas where water is seasonally found, like ditches, ponds and field waterways, to areas where the flow of water has been altered by the landowners. Private land would essentially be converted to federally-owned land.

separate lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia by attorneys general in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana have also filed their own suit.

This growing-group of WOTUS lawsuits adds to the long and litigious history of the EPA’s attempts to expand its authority over private land that began with the 2001 Supreme Court decision that limited the agency’s regulatory power.

 

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theBuckWheat

The Iron Law of Bureaucracy: bureaucrats expand power until some superior power stops them. Another version of this states that where there is "no limiting principle", government will claim near-infinite powers over citizens.

Our government gave itself the power to create near-infinite money out of thin air with which to pay its bills. It uses this money to pay for near-infinite bureaucracy and near-infinite "benefits" that buy votes and support. A government that is self-funding starts to think it doesn't even h ave to obey its own laws. It can buy the votes its needs.

Before government gave itself this power, the main limit on government was the limit on the amount of money that taxpayers were willing and able to send to Washington.

When the States finally call for an Article V convention to consider amendments to the Constitution, the first order of business is to revoke the government's power to create near-infinite amounts of money. Government must be constrained only to the amount of taxes the voters are willing to pay. If some issue is important, let us debate and vote on paying extra. That is the first way by which we restore government to its proper relationship to the citizen. That is, to restore government as our servant and not our master.

Fred Chittenden

The 'real' solution to this garbage would be for a GOP Congress and President to pass and sign a rewrite to regulatory rules that requires new regulations to pass a majority in the House and Senate before they take effect. If not agree to by Congress, they don't take effect.

In other words, reestablish the normal check and balance of power between the various branches of government and take away a lot of the burrOcrats legislative/regulatory powers.

Even better, come up with a way to retroactively address past regulations in a predictable, organized fashion.


The IRS Back Door to the Obamacare Employer Mandate

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Tuesday, June 30th, 2015, 6:53 PM PERMALINK


Both the NFIB and the Galen Institute remind us today that the IRS has begun implementing a regulatory fine on small employers which is nowhere to be found in the text of the Obamacare law.

No, they were not having a little gallows humor in the wake of King v. Burwell.

Up until now, an employer could reimburse an employee for the latter's purchase of health insurance (or direct health expenses) for her and her family. This was a tax-free reimbursement, free of federal and state income tax and all payroll taxes.

Many small employers, who could not or didn't want to provide group health insurance, took advantage of this option so that their employees could get the same tax treatment on health insurance as their larger business competitors could offer.

Not anymore. 

The IRS has said that any employer participating in such a program can be fined up to $100 per day, or $36,500 per year per employee. This even applies to employers who are not required to offer health insurance under the employer mandate (long delayed, but technically applying to firms with 50 or more employees). This regulation was not called for anywhere in the Obamacare statute.

Why would the IRS do this? Very simply, the goal here is to destroy individual market health insurance, and the employer reimbursement was one of the very few things keeping it alive. It's also a way to bully very small employers (those with fewer than 50 employees and not subject to mandate) to purchase Obamacare group insurance coverage anyway. It's a regulation in search of statutory basis, but the will to power is obvious.

Someone should take this to the Supreme Court...oh wait.

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chiefpontiac

The fun is just beginning....


History Shows Connecticut’s Income Tax Hike Will Beget Bigger Government

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Posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2015, 2:32 PM PERMALINK


Connecticut lawmakers approved budget adjustments shortly after 1 a.m. this morning, the last day of the state’s fiscal year. After passing a budget on June 3rd with large tax hikes that caused many businesses to reconsider their operations in Connecticut, lawmakers in Hartford were shamed into making the changes that they sent to Gov. Malloy last night. The $1.5 billion tax increase that Gov. Malloy and Democratic legislators work to trim over the last several weeks includes an increase in the top income tax rate and the adoption of a unitary corporate tax system that will reduce the job-creating capacity of some of the state’s largest employers.

The tripling of the sales tax on computers and data processing that was in the budget passed four weeks ago was removed from the revised plan that awaits Gov. Malloy’s signature. However, over a billion dollars in higher taxes remain in the final deal, including higher income taxes for individuals, families, and employers across Connecticut.

Connecticut became the most recent state to institute an income tax, which was signed into law by Gov. Lowell Weicker in 1991, and the state has since been a case study demonstrating how instituting and raising income taxes beget more spending and bigger government. In a Forbes column published yesterday, ATR’s Patrick Gleason highlights how, since the enactment of its income tax, the size of Connecticut state government has grown twice as fast as that of neighboring New Hampshire, one of nine states that does not levy an income tax:

“In 1991, Connecticut state spending was 8.4 percent of state GDP and New Hampshire state spending was 6.3 percent of the Granite State economy. From 1991 to 2013, the size of government in Connecticut grew by more than a third, more than double the growth of government in New Hampshire, where the size of government grew 15 percent during that same period. Demonstrating that once a tax is in place it tends to rise, Connecticut’s income tax was 4.5 percent when instituted. 24 years later, the state income tax tops out at 6.7 percent. The budget approved earlier this month would raise the top rate to 6.99 percent.”

The revised budget that Gov. Malloy is expected to sign raises the top marginal income tax rate paid by individuals, families, and small businesses from 6.7 to 6.99 percent. The final budget delays the unitary tax that will cause the bottom lines of many companies to take a hit, but that just gives business owners time to plan a move to a state with a friendly tax climate.

Despite the fact that he promised just nine months ago that “there will not be a tax increase” if reelected, Gov. Malloy is now about to go back on his word and sign into law a more than $1 billion tax increase. Connecticut already has the third highest state and local tax burden in the country, had over dozen state tax increases go into effect just four years ago, and has been hit with over 20 federal tax hikes under President Obama.

Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough was correct when he stated recently that for Connecticut residents, “it’s hard to imagine things could get any worse.”

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Social Security Overpays Beneficiaries $38 Billion Over 10 Years

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Posted by Emma Boone on Tuesday, June 30th, 2015, 11:00 AM PERMALINK


According to the United States Social Security website, the Social Security Administration (SSA) funds two of the biggest beneficiary programs, the Social Security Disability Insurance program and the Supplement Security Income program. Though in reality, it is taxpayers who are funding these programs.

A recent report shows that 44.5 percent of Social Security Disability beneficiaries were overpaid at some point over a ten year period, costing taxpayers an estimated $38 billion. The SSA has only been able to recover half of this, leaving billions of taxpayer dollars never to be seen again. The report points to instances where individuals whose benefits terminated- either because they were deceased, their medical condition improved, or they no longer met eligibility requirements- were still receiving benefits from the SSA.

On average, it took the SSA 8.1 months to identify the overpayment. Doubts over the abilities of the SSA have recently become a focus after a consistent five year deficit along with careless and negligent behaviors of the beneficiary programs.

As if this is not enough of a concern, the status of the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund is quickly dwindling. If the overpaying of beneficiaries continues, the DI trust fund will face at least a $267 billion shortfall and the trust fund will be run dry in two short years.

Efforts to keep the DI trust fund on its feet would mean increasing DI payroll taxes by at least 17 percent, leaving taxpayers even more accountable. Another solution would be to decrease essential funds to beneficiaries by 20 percent. By decreasing funds, the average benefit would be below the federal poverty level and benefiting households would see, on average, a $218 reduction in monthly benefits.

It is time for Congress to make necessary adjustments to the Social Security Administration before time runs out and the well runs dry. American taxpayers had have enough of the SSA’s negligence and must call for Congress to make amends to these taxpayer backed programs.

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Damien Benoit

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BrookPutnam15

As Social Security fails to adequately handle fraud and mismanaged funds, Millennials are disgusted at the state of the program. Some 60% of them believe that Social Security will not be there for them, and they're right! I write about these issues on my blog and I encourage everyone to sign the petition to allow every American the chance to opt-out of Social Security at http://takebackyoursixpercent....


Hillary Voted Against Cap Gains and Dividend Tax Cuts As Senator

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Tuesday, June 30th, 2015, 8:00 AM PERMALINK


As a U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton voted against a tax relief package that cut the capital gains and dividends tax rate, voting no on the “Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act” (H.R. 2).

On May 15, 2003, she voted no on the bill, which passed 51-49. She later voted no on the conference report on May 23, 2013, which also passed, 51-50.

About the bill:

-The bill cut the capital gains tax rate from 20 percent to 15 percent and the top tax rate on dividend income from 38.6 percent to 15 percent.

-At the time, almost 50 percent of American families owned mutual funds and this legislation provided much-needed tax relief for these millions of Americans across the country.

-H.R. 2 also increased tax-free capital investment by small businesses and bonus depreciation on investment paid between 2003 and 2005.

-Finally, the bill accelerated income tax cuts across the board in order to provide immediate tax relief for all Americans. 

Even though this legislation provided tax relief to millions of American families and small businesses, Clinton voted no and characterized the legislation as a “plan targeted to a few” that would not help create jobs or restore prosperity.

The U.S. is saddled with one of the highest personal dividend income tax rates in the OECD, according to the Tax Foundation.

 

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Eight Reasons Congress Should Let Ex-Im RIP

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie, Emma Boone on Monday, June 29th, 2015, 4:40 PM PERMALINK


Tomorrow the charter for the Export-Import Bank expires, putting an end to an icon of corporate welfare and crony capitalism. Ex-Im’s supporters continue to insist American businesses rely on the bank to compete despite these claims being proven false time and time again.

Many in Washington hope to renew the charter of the bank in the coming months. Here are eight reasons why Congress must not bring Ex-Im back:

1. $3.2 Billion in Loans to State Owned Airlines in Oil-Rich United Arab Emirates

Between 2009 and 2012, Ex-Im has given out $3.2 billion in loan guarantees to three state owned airlines from the United Arab Emirates to purchase airplanes from Boeing. One of the companies, Emirate Airlines, has stated such loans are unnecessary. Nevertheless, the oil rich nation officials are more than happy to accept billions of American taxpayer dollars to subsidize such generous loans.

2. Ex-Im Finances Transactions Between Two Chinese Government Entities

In yet another ‘Deal of the Day,’ Ex-Im has provided the second largest non-US company in the world, Sinopec, over $200,000 in loans only for the corporation to facilitate exports to Sinopec’s U.S. subsidiary. If you’re having flashbacks of the $15 million Caterpillar, Inc. loan that allowed the giant corporation to buy products from themselves, you would be correct.

3. Solyndra Receives $10 Million A Year Before Declaring Bankruptcy

In another wasteful loan, Ex-Im gave Obama’s favorite renewable energy company Solyndra a $10 million loan for exports. Unsurprisingly, just a year after receiving this hefty loan, Solyndra went bankrupt, as predicated by the Department of Energy.

4. $700 Million Loan Given to Australian Mining Giant

Nearly $700 million in loans was given to companies exporting equipment to Australian based mining giant, Roy Hill Mine. It’s questionable that a loan this large was even necessary considering the mine is owned by the richest woman in Australia. Adding to the disappointment, the Heritage Foundation estimated a $1.2 billion decrease in U.S. sales will be the result of this loan, as the company competes with U.S. iron ore exports.

5. Ex-Im Finances Indian Coal Plant that Displaces Indigenous Population

Despite the Obama Administration’s efforts to crack down on fossil fuels and impose burdensome regulations on American coal plants, Ex-Im gave $917 million in loans to the Sasan Coal Power Plant in India. According to a report by the Sierra Club, this power plant may have displaced indigenous residents. The report described numerous alarming abuses including forced relocation, lack of compensation for residents who lost property and denying children access to schools.

6. State Owned Saudi Arabian Oil Giant Receives Nearly $5 Billion Loan

In 2012 the Saudi Arabian owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, was given $4.97 billion in loans. Given the fact that this is the world’s largest oil company, it’s extremely unlikely that the company was in dire need of such a large loan. Even if it was, the company could have received such a loan from the private sector.

7. Ex-Im Finances $3 Billion Natural Gas Project that leads to Villagers Deaths

Ex-Im gave $3 billion to help finance a liquefied natural gas project in Papua, New Guinea. The House Financial Services Committee noted that three environmental and development groups had warned the Ex-Im bank about potential environment, social, and human rights risks behind the project, including a possible landslide due to “poor management practices at a local quarry.” On January 12, 2012 a landslide did occur, taking the lives of 27 villagers.

8. 500 Million Loan Given to Mongolia Copper Mine

Despite the Copper Market Forecast predicting that refined copper was to exceed demand by more than 390,000 metric tons this year, Ex-Im still deemed it necessary to give competing Mongolian copper mine $500 million in loans. This loan undoubtedly competes with excavations in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, to name a few.

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ECPA Reform Finally on House Radar

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Posted by Timothy Wilt on Monday, June 29th, 2015, 2:44 PM PERMALINK


Recent reports indicate that the House Judiciary Committee intends to mark-up a bill that will finally extend Fourth Amendment protections to email correspondence. The bill, H.R. 699, The Email Privacy Act, introduced by Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, ensuring constitutional protections and legal standards desperately missing in today’s digital world. 

Although the bill enjoys wide bipartisan support and recently became the most cosponsored bill in the House with 284 cosponsors, the Judiciary Committee has neglected to move the bill. As part of the Digital Fourth Coalition, an ideologically diverse group that actively campaigns for Fourth Amendment rights in the digital world, Americans for Tax Reform has recently penned a letter urging Congress to consider this important piece of legislation.

Shortly thereafter, POLITICO reported a markup expected in July.  

Katie McAuliffe, Federal Affairs Manager at ATR, released this statement supporting the bill:

“When ECPA was written in 1986, most Americans did not have email accounts. It was impossible for Congress to foresee the type of technological advancements nearly three decades later. As a result, our emails, photos, documents and other items stored in the cloud are in jeopardy of government intrusion. Privacy rights should not stop online. The Email Privacy Act is an important bill to protect the privacy of all Americans and should be voted on without delay.”

The Email Privacy Act would require government agencies to get a warrant before searching through an individual’s private emails, which is a more stringent requirement than the mere subpoena needed to do so under current law. There should be no discrimination between a citizen’s physical mail and their electronic mail, and yet under ECPA electronic mail is given vastly fewer protections.

The Fourth Amendment rights guaranteed by the Constitution do not apply to only some forms of communication, but are rather safe-guards against all forms of government intrusion into the privacy of citizens.  In 1986, when the ECPA became law, few considered the Internet the robust medium for interaction that it is today and it is understandable the policy reflects this sentiment.

Today, however, we live in a world that can no longer deny the prolific role of Internet for communication. In this world, every day that passes without sensible policy that acknowledges electronic correspondence as the same as physical mail, and thus worthy of the same privacy protections, is an insult to the founding principles of our nation.

The time to end digital discrimination is now. The Email Privacy Act is the first step in this fight, the people want it, all political ideologies agree on it, and it is time for Congress to act.

Please Click Here to sign a petition urging the House Judiciary Committee to approve the bill. 

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