Bill Requiring Warrants for Email Searches Blocked by Unknown Republican Senator

| by Sarah Siskind
article imagearticle image

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, managed to wrestle unanimous support for bill S. 607, which would require police to obtain a warrant to access online messages, from the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, the bill was blocked from coming to a vote on the Senate floor until at least September.

Leahy had hoped to expedite the bill before the Senate left for Congress recess by passing the bill through the judiciary with unanimous support. According to a Democratic staffer, the bill hit a wall when one Republican member voted against the bill.

Currently, police only need a subpoena to, issued without a judge’s approval, to force email providers to turn over unopened emails or emails more than 180 days old. This is according to the Electronic Communications privacy act passed in 1986.

Twenty five years later, the public view of emails have evolved though the law has not. Lawmakers still consider an email six months old as abandoned and therefore subject to looser privacy protections.

Though the staffer did not divulge what concerns prohibited the Senator from passing the bill onto a vote in the upper chamber, Sen. Leahy stated he would work with Republicans to address al concerns. There are sixteen members on the House Judiciary Committee.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IO) has expressed concerns over the bill’s effect on civil regulatory investigations since warrants are only available to criminal offenses.  Though the Senator’s staff has stated he was not the one to stymie the bill from a vote in the Senate.

The bill is one of several in a front to curb surveillance and address public concern over privacy since the NSA leak.

Sources: The Hill