Sen. Leahy Backs Off Support for Warrantless Access to Personal Email

Tuesday, 20 Nov 2012 04:24 PM

By Paul Scicchitano

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Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is refuting reports that he had rewritten a draft bill intended to protect the privacy of Americans to now allow warrantless access of all personal email in the U.S. by 22 federal agencies.

A Judiciary Committee aide denied late Tuesday earlier reports that Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) supported the legislation.

CNET, a technology news site, had earlier reported that Leahy was supporting the measure, giving 22 federal agencies access to private emails and other forms of electronic communication.

"CNET has it wrong," an aide tweeted from Leahy's account. "Sen. Leahy does NOT support an #ECPA exception to search warrant requirement [for] civil enforcement [for agencies] like FTC, SEC."

Under the measure, CNET reported, agencies would have been able to gain access to Google Docs, Facebook postings, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant while law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Homeland Security would gain full access to Internet accounts — without any notification to the owner, according to CNET.

“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,” CNET reported, noting that a vote on the bill is scheduled for next week.

Leahy, who serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told an audience last month that the right to free speech “enshrined in our First Amendment” is a personal and public right.

“America should be a beacon for free speech throughout the world, and our system is rightly held up as a model for others,” Leahy said in a keynote address to mark the Media Institute Celebration of Free Speech Week in Washington, D.C.

“We have long recognized, however, that the First Amendment cannot be used as a shield for certain illegal activity,” he said. “For instance, our courts have held that it is illegal to engage in fraud and the First Amendment cannot be used to justify it.”


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