Sen. Patrick Leahy isn’t known as “Leaky Leahy” for nothing. He has a history of letting out information to the press that is supposed to be confidential or even classified then pretending like he had nothing to do with it.
So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that a bill sponsored by him and touted as increasing email privacy has been quietly rewritten with his approval to now give authorities warrantless access to your emails.
The bill as rewritten would grant 22 federal agencies access to your email requiring only a subpoena, not a warrant signed by a judge with evidence of probable cause. Local law enforcement would be able to traipse through your communications on networks not accessible to the public at large, such as university networks. And any law enforcement agency will be able to get into your emails by declaring an “emergency” situation exists, without submitting even to later judicial review.
And it’s not just email. Google docs, Facebook posts, any online communications would be open range to law enforcers.
The original bill, HR 2471, which the House has already approved, would have required warrants and probable cause for law enforcement to read your emails. After a group of sheriffs and district attorneys lobbyists complained, Leahy rewrote the bill as a collection of amendments he will offer for a vote next week in the Senate.
Members of the Digital Due Process coalition — including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, AT&T and other major Internet companies — had hoped that Congress would strengthen privacy online, allowing them to promote their moves toward “cloud” services.
If the amended bill passes, it would be a serious setback to the coalition’s efforts, not to mention a major blow to Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights.
Just for refresher purposes, the Fourth Amendment reads: “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, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Between cameras on every street corner, microphones in every store, spy drones in the air and the new intelligence center in Salt Lake City recording every telephone and Internet communication, the Fourth Amendment is almost gone, just as a matter of daily course.
That’s not to mention any of the more high-tech devices to which law enforcement could have access.
If this current bill passes, Big Brother will just get that much bigger.