Previous House bill H.R. 2471 was approved by the House of Representatives and was reported to have protected Americans’ email privacy is now being quietly rewritten. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now behind the scenes making dramatic alterations to the legislation as a response to law enforcement concerns, which would authorize warrantless searches of Americans’ email. A vote on the bill is scheduled for next week.
Leahy’s rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — to access Americans’ e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.
The proposed changes in the draft can be seen below:
CNet went on to report,
It’s an abrupt departure from Leahy’s earlier approach, which required police to obtain a search warrant backed by probable cause before they could read the contents of e-mail or other communications. The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill “provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by… requiring that the government obtain a search warrant.”
Leahy had planned a vote on an earlier version of his bill, designed to update a pair of 1980s-vintage surveillance laws, in late September. But after law enforcement groups including the National District Attorneys’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association organizations objected to the legislation and asked him to “reconsider acting” on it, Leahy pushed back the vote and reworked the bill as a package of amendments to be offered next Thursday. The package (PDF) is a substitute for H.R. 2471, which the House of Representatives already has approved.
This is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, which reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The major points of revision in the bill are as follows:
- Grants warrantless access to Americans’ electronic correspondence to over 22 federal agencies. Only a subpoena is required, not a search warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause.
- Permits state and local law enforcement to warrantlessly access Americans’ correspondence stored on systems not offered “to the public,” including university networks.
- Authorizes any law enforcement agency to access accounts without a warrant — or subsequent court review — if they claim “emergency” situations exist.
- Says providers “shall notify” law enforcement in advance of any plans to tell their customers that they’ve been the target of a warrant, order, or subpoena.
- Delays notification of customers whose accounts have been accessed from 3 days to “10 business days.” This notification can be postponed by up to 360 days.
This means that should this bill pass with the amendments it will be one more area in which those who have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution have done the exact opposite by undermining it and our rights and no one will complain because it’s all being done in the name of “security.” Aren’t you glad Big Brother is there looking out for all of us helpless children?
UPDATE: Looks like Leahy is backing off of this bill now. I assume he got a little to close to the kitchen and didn’t like the heat he was getting.