“A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans’ e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law,” Declan McCullagh reports for CNET. “Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans’ e-mail, 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.”

McCullagh reports, “Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said requiring warrantless access to Americans’ data ‘undercuts’ the purpose of Leahy’s original proposal. ‘We believe a warrant is the appropriate standard for any contents,’ he said… This is a bitter setback for Internet companies and a liberal-conservative-libertarian coalition, which had hoped to convince Congress to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act to protect documents stored in the cloud. Leahy glued those changes onto an unrelated privacy-related bill supported by Netflix… Members of the so-called Digital Due Process coalition include Apple, Amazon.com, Americans for Tax Reform, AT&T, the Center for Democracy and Technology, eBay, Google, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, TechFreedom, and Twitter.”

“Leahy, a former prosecutor, has a mixed record on privacy. He criticized the FBI’s efforts to require Internet providers to build in backdoors for law enforcement access, and introduced a bill in the 1990s protecting Americans’ right to use whatever encryption products they wanted,” McCullagh reports. “An excerpt from Leahy’s revised legislation authorizing over 22 federal agencies to obtain Americans’ e-mail without a search warrant signed by a judge. Click for larger image.”

“But he also authored the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which is now looming over Web companies, as well as the reviled Protect IP Act. An article in The New Republic concluded Leahy’s work on the Patriot Act “appears to have made the bill less protective of civil liberties.” Leahy had introduced significant portions of the Patriot Act under the name Enhancement of Privacy and Public Safety in Cyberspace Act a year earlier,” McCullagh reports. “One obvious option for the Digital Due Process coalition is the simplest: if Leahy’s committee proves to be an insurmountable roadblock in the Senate, try the courts instead.”

More info in the full article here.

UPDATE: 5:08pm EDT: U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy hits back at report that legislation would decrease Americans’ privacy.

MacDailyNews Take: How much liberty are you willing to squander? When is enough finally enough?

“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…” — Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety – Benjamin Franklin, February 1775

We’d tell you to contact Leahy, but, come on, would it really make any difference? A Democrat in Vermont is slightly less endangered than the cockroach in Queens.

The bill is referred to as “Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2011“. U.S. citizens, contact your U.S. Senators via email here (have at it anyway concerned Vermonters) and let them know how you feel about this revised bill.

UPDATE: 5:08pm EDT: U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy hits back at report that legislation would decrease Americans’ privacy.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader "trevor7578" for the heads up.]