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Senate Bill Rewrite Lets Feds Read Your E-mail Without Warrants
November 20, 2012 | Telepresence Options
Proposed law scheduled for a vote next week originally increased Americans' e-mail privacy. Then law enforcement complained. Now it increases government access to e-mail and other digital files.
Sen. Patrick Leahy previously said his bill boosts Americans' e-mail privacy protections by "requiring that the government obtain a search warrant." That's no longer the case.
(Credit: U.S. Senate)
(Credit: U.S. Senate)
By Declan McCullagh, CNET
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.
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.
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."
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