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November 20, 2012

Civil Libertarian Pat Leahy: Hey, How About Giving the Federal Government Total Access To All Your Emails and Accounts Without a Warrant?

The state is benevolent.

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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.

Revised bill 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.

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.)

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.

So he immediately flipped from "must seek a warrant" to a new position of "doesn't have to seek a warrant and in fact can do even more without a warrant."

Yes, any limitation you place on law enforcement makes their jobs harder. We cannot sacrifice whatever small bits of privacy we have, though, simply to make their jobs even easier.

At some point you can make it so easy for law enforcement to investigate citizens than they can get around to investigating non-criminal activity. Like political speech the federal government doesn't like.


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posted by Ace at 03:02 PM

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