Is Senate Considering Bill that Would Allow Warrantless Searches of Emails?

| by Michael Allen

Yesterday, Cnet.com reported that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) rewrote a bill that was meant to protect email privacy, but there are conflicting reports on exactly what was written.

Cnet.com reported that Leahy's bill would still “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," reported Cnet.com.

However, Sen. Leahy did not support the proposal that would allow warrantless email searches, an unidentified aide told RawStory.com.

Alan Butler, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center which studies emerging civil liberties issues, told RawStory.com: “It’s hard to know whether what we’ve seen in that story is the final word or not. We’ve sort of gone over that particular piece for a number of months because it’s changed in different ways… There could be significant push back if it significantly weakens the oversight provisions that it seemed at first that it was providing.”

“In light of what’s going on, especially in the past few weeks with the Petraeus scandal, I think it underscores the need for safeguards and judicial review of this sort of electronic surveillance and investigatory techniques.”

Later, in a tweet on Tuesday, the Senator Leahy's office stated: “Ideas from many sources always circulate b4 a markup 4 disc., but Sen.Leahy does NOT support such an exception for #ECPA search warrants."