"If you left a letter on your desk for 180 days, you wouldn’t imagine that the police could then swoop in and read it without your permission, or a judge’s. But that’s just what law enforcement officers can do with your e-mail. Using only a subpoena, government agents can demand that service providers turn over electronic communications they have stored, as long as those communications are more than six months old. Protections are even weaker for opened e-mail or documents stored in the “cloud.” The advertisements that the Postal Service piles into your mailbox every day are legally sacrosanct; the medical notifications your health-insurance company sends to your Gmail account are not.
This bizarre reality is thanks to the 1986 Electronic Privacy Communications Act, a law written before anyone dreamed that Americans would send, receive and store so much private information over third-party services such as Gmail or would draft documents using cloud computing that they intend to keep confidential. Now Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the 1986 law’s original author, wants to amend it into the 21st century."