U.S. Senate bill rewrite lets feds read your e-mail, online files without warrants

“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.]

91 Comments

  1. Before this gets too politicised this particular erosion of privacy and civil rights has been going on for decades whoever is in power at the time. “They” have realised that people are now better informed than ever before, with more power to communicate and organise too. That scares the crap out of them, and they want it to stop.

    1. Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same. — Ronald Reagan

      1. “Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.” – Ronald Reagan

        “Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for even existing.” – Ronald Reagan

        1. Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire, it wafts across the electrified borders. — Ronald Reagan

          1. One point I like to make is that the the USSR broke up and the Berlin Wall fell because of information. The fax machine, computers in the hands of individuals, copiers, etc.

            ronald raygun just happened to be President when it happened.

        1. Agreed. I did not support Bush and the “Patriot” Act overreach. I did not support backscatter machines at airports or any of the many erosions of our liberties.

    2. @Dave H

      I agree. I think this is all about the government (and those in power) being scared. The whole concept of the internet and the power it can give to the “little people” is something they will want to monitor. Truthfully, this has nothing to do with our security, it is THEIR security they are trying to protect.

      ….and this is a big problem. Democratic AND Republican.

    1. I guess in your uberhaste to blame the majority elected prez you missed:

      “Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns.”

      This rewritten bill hasn’t even been approved by the senate yet, let alone be seen by the President. Typical partisan knee jerk response. T’is ok.

  2. I trust the government. The government cares about me. The government will provide for me and my family. The government is my Mommy and Daddy. Whatever the government wants is fine with me, no questions asked. The government is always working in my best interest. The government will care for my health as if I was their offspring (if it could have offspring). As long as I can suck a few meager drops off the government teat, I will vote for whatever the government wants to do.

    1. And I am too dumb and too greedy to realize that what I term “the government” could be better termed “the productive and over-taxed elements of society”.

  3. “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” – Thomas Jefferson

    “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” ― Edward R. Murrow

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