Congress, however, has no current plans to take up the matter. U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who heads the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, is not planning to introduce any digital assets proposals and has not heard any come up, his press secretary said. Also, a bill aimed at modernizing the Stored Communications Act failed in the House Judiciary Committee last year.
"This is not going to happen overnight," said Greg Nojeim, of The Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, public policy group. He said changes to the Stored Communications Act were being discussed by industry groups, "but none that would help these families."
Under current law, Internet companies that provide storage for digital assets are prohibited from disclosing account information, even to families, without a court order, which can be costly and difficult to obtain.
Even then, there are no guarantees. Facebook, for example, citing its terms of service agreement won't provide access, even if a judge orders them to do so. Facebook will not comment on pending legislation or specific cases other than to defer to their service agreement, which states, in part, "We may access, preserve and share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so."
Along these lines, TechNet, one of several groups in opposition to the Oregon measure, provided written testimony arguing that legislation requiring online companies to provide access could subject them to federal criminal penalties.
"We just want to make sure that whatever comes out doesn't put a company in a position where they have to choose between state and federal law," said Hawley.