House approves Netflix-backed changes to video privacy law

Lawmakers pass bill that will make it easier for people to share their video-viewing habits online, while failing to act on an e-mail privacy measure.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a Netflix-backed bill today that would make it easier for people to share their video-viewing habits online, while failing to act on an e-mail privacy measure.

By voice vote, members of the House approved H.R. 6671, which amends the Video Privacy Protection Act to allow video rental companies to obtain consent from customers in order to share information about their viewing preferences on social networks. Originally passed in 1988, the law was enacted after a newspaper printed the video rental history of Judge Robert H. Bork during his Supreme Court nomination hearings.

Netflix applauded the bill's passage and voiced optimism for its chances in the Senate, the bill's next destination.

"We are pleased the house has moved to modernize the VPPA, giving consumers more freedom to share with friends when they want," the streaming company said in a statement. "We look forward to swift action in the Senate."

The bill is similar to a proposal approved last month by the Senate Judiciary Committee, minus language inserted by Sen. Patrick Leahy requiring police to obtain search warrants before accessing files stored in the cloud, including e-mail.

The House amendment to the act requires approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is unlikely to happen before the Senate adjourns for the holidays. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who heads the Judiciary committee, in September postponed discussion on the proposal.

Civil liberties advocates criticized the House for not acting on the e-mail warrant requirement.

"Changes to electronic privacy cannot happen piecemeal," Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "If we are to achieve true reform -- which means getting full protection for Americans' in-boxes and private communication -- we cannot give priority to special interests."

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