By: Erin Kelly, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Congress is moving to protect Americans' emails from government snooping while also urging federal agents to keep closer tabs on social media to check for possible terrorist communication.

The two separate efforts underscore the pressure that lawmakers feel to simultaneously boost Americans' electronic privacy and stop terrorist groups from recruiting followers or plotting an attack online.

In March, a key House panel is set to take a big step toward updating a 30-year-old electronic privacy law that allows government agents to read Americans' emails without a warrant if the emails are at least six months old. The 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, written well before email was commonly used, considers old emails to be "abandoned" and allows government investigators to peruse them at will.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.., has promised a vote on the bipartisan Email Privacy Act, which would update the law to require government agents to get a warrant before searching anyone's emails, regardless of when the mail was sent or whether it was ever opened. More than 300 of the 435 House members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, making it the most popular piece of legislation that has not yet received a vote in the House.

"As a result of Congress’s failure to keep pace with technology, every American is at risk of having their emails warrantlessly searched by government agencies," said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., lead sponsor of the bill with Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan. "I’m thrilled...we can finally update this archaic law and ensure that Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights are protected."

Senate Judiciary Committee members Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have introduced similar legislation. The Senate panel has held a hearing on the bill but has not scheduled a vote.

"This is a very important bill, and it should easily pass the House," said Mark Jaycox of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supports the legislation. "The big question is whether the Senate can get it done this year before time runs out and we have to start all over again in the next Congress."

While civil liberties advocates are encouraged by the House push to protect Americans' emails, they are keeping a close eye on separate efforts by lawmakers to increase surveillance of social media.

Earlier this month, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the bipartisan Combat Terrorist Use of Social Media Act, which requires President Obama to develop a comprehensive strategy to counter terrorists' use of social media. The Obama administration has been promising such a strategy since late 2011.

The Islamic State has been especially effective at using Twitter to recruit followers in the U.S., according to the FBI.

"ISIS is growing, and the threat of homegrown terrorism is real,"  said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., homeland security chairman and lead sponsor of the bill along with Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Joni Ernst, R- Iowa. The legislation has been introduced in the House by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.

While the bill does not tell the Obama administration how to fight the digital war, separate legislation introduced late last year in the Senate would require U.S. tech companies to report any online terrorist activity to the government.

"That information can be the key to identifying and stopping terrorist recruitment or a terrorist attack, but we need help from technology companies," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is co-sponsoring the bill with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.

Feinstein said the bill doesn't force companies to take any additional action to discover terrorist activity, but requires them to report any activity they come across to law enforcement officials.

Americans do not expect to keep federal agents from reading their social media posts to the same degree that they expect the government to stay out of their private email, said Jaycox, who handles privacy and civil liberties issues for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

However, he said there are constitutional problems with relying on tech companies to decide what is or isn't "terrorist speech" as they determine what information to turn over to law enforcement agencies.

"It raises First Amendment free speech issues," Jaycox said. "The idea that tech companies can create some type of magical algorithm to detect terrorist speech by searching for certain words or phrases is unrealistic. If someone uses the word ISIS in a tweet, are they a terrorist?"