New bill could give law enforcement access to your emails.

It will surprise some that this bill comes from the Democrats, but it does not surprise me.

CNET has learned that 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. (CNET obtained the revised draft from a source involved in the negotiations with Leahy.)

Before being elected to his first term, even President Obama said he would “filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies”, and then he supported the FISA bill extension that did precisely that.  Then, when it was challenged, he wanted the challenge dismissed. Later, the President supported the bill’s extension.  In the case of Obama this is even more unforgivable since he is a Constitutional scholar, and should know what an egregious violation to liberty that was.

So yes, Democrats can make lousy decisions with regards to personal liberty as well, which is precisely what this is.  If law enforcement officials have a reasonable suspicion of illegal activities, they can get a warrant.  They shouldn’t be allowed to poke around whenever they damn well please.

Here are some of the highlights.

  • 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.

Thank Random Number Generator for companies like Google who tell us when our governments try to pry into our personal business.

Mark Rotenberg hit the nail on the head.

Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that in light of the revelations about how former CIA director David Petraeus’ e-mail was perused by the FBI, “even the Department of Justice should concede that there’s a need for more judicial oversight,” not less.

But, of course, the Obama DoJ won’t.

Aside from being a clear violation of public privacy and the fourth amendment, this bill could also slow the impact of developing technologies – not what we need with our economy the way it is right now.  Many individuals and companies are moving toward storing information on the cloud, which is driving the development of that technology.  If people/companies become reticent to do so, you’ve just sliced the Achilles tendon for the businesses who have dumped tons of money into a growing field and for no good reason.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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