Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

 CNET reports that Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee will introduce a rewrite to H.R. 2471  that would expand the ability of law enforcement to gain warrantless acess to email and other forms of online communication.  Their political correspondent, Dedan McCullagh writes:

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.

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.”

CNET says that specific items within the bill rewrite include:

  • 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.

Rusty Weiss pointed out the irony that in 2008 it was Senator Leahy who accused the Bush Administration for abusing their power over the FISA wiretaps.  Needless to say the idea of the Feds having unfettered access to our internet communication is something that should be opposed vigorously regardless of what party proposes it.  FreedomWorks has an action item up to help you do just that.

Update: Duane Lester shared a relevant clip from Judge Andrew Napalitano’s speech from FreePAC in Chicago.

2nd Update: Leahy backs down, but keep the pressure on until this bill rewrite is dead, dead, dead… not just mostly dead, but totally dead (had to through a Princess Bride reference in there).

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