Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy wants to fast-track legislation requiring police to obtain a warrant before accessing emails and online messages in hopes of getting it approved before the August recess.
An aide for the Vermont Democrat said the bill already has far more than the 60 votes it needs to overcome the possibility of a filibuster, reports The Hill.
Leahy already has scored unanimous Democratic support for the measure and has Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah as a co-sponsor. But he's in negotiations with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, and other Republicans to address their concerns that the warrant requirement may hinder civil regulatory investigations because warrants under the bill would be made available only for criminal matters.
Privacy advocates agree with Leahy that regulators still would be able to obtain information by directly subpoenaing individuals or companies under investigation.
The recent leaks of the National Security Agency's security programs is boosting support for Leahy's measure, said Gregory Nojeim, a senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology. Revelations about the existence of NSA surveillance programs, he said, have left many lawmakers "eager to vote for privacy legislation."
While the bill does not affect NSA programs, it would make it more difficult for law enforcement officials to access online messages.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 requires police to have only a subpoena, issued without a judge's approval, to force Internet companies to turn over opened emails, or ones that are more than 180 days old.
But email providers now offer massive amounts of online storage, so emails that are not downloaded or deleted are no longer considered as abandoned, like they were in the past.
Leahy and other opponents of the act, say it is now out of date. They agree with Google official Richard Salgado who says that modern Internet users should expect the documents they store online to have the same Fourth Amendment protections as "documents stored in a desk drawer" do.
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