Bill Intended to Secure Email Privacy Now Does the Exact Opposite (Updated: Leahy Responds)

In 2011, Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act, which would require authorities and law enforcement to get a search warrant to access private electronic communications.

The bill is now finally up for possible vote next week. In the year since the bill was first introduced, there have been some significant revisions. Declan McCullagh at CNet explains:

Leahy's rewritten bill would 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.

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. The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant."

So apparently the Department of Justice objected to having to take the time to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Fourth Amendment and claimed it could have an “adverse impact” on investigations. Rather than responding, “Yes, that’s the point,” Leahy capitulated.

Among the others agencies that could potentially get access to your private emails and documents are the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as the Federal Reserve.  

Update: Via Twitter, Leahy's office tweets: "Ideas from many sources always circulate b4 a markup 4 disc., but Sen.Leahy does NOT support such an exception for #ECPA search warrants." The feed reiterates Leahy's intent to require search warrants.

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  • SIV||

    TEAM BLUE: the Party of Civil Liberties.

  • Drake||

    Pat Leahy - Their champion who stands for nothing except big government.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Thank God for those revisions. I was in danger of thinking Leahy wasn't a total asshole. The senator can now take Cheney's advice.

  • Brett L||

    The Constitution is not a suicide pact! Word still out on whether or not this includes suicide by cop.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Ah, the Federal Maritime Commission, at least they're not as bad as those assholes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

  • OldMexican||

    In 2011, Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced[...]

    Yeah. Once you start reading those very words, you know the rest will be about a major clusterfuck.

    The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant."


    What's fascinating about this is not that the good Demo-lapdog Senator caved on the 4th Amendment, but that he introduced a totally needless bill requiring law enforcement agencies to follow the Constitution before searching into our private e-mail and social media accounts - that is, to do their job. Isn't that fascinating?

    The cynics would think - and I am a cynic, mind you - that good ol' Patrick
    introduced the bill as a "bait and switch", knowing full well that the "restrictions" (which are already implicit in the Constitution) would be negotiated away and come up with exactly what HE wanted - a defacto nullification of the 4th Amendment, while still keeping his reputation as a "defender of civil rights" intact.

  • califernian||

    There's a whole host of bills I'm waiting for them to introduce:

    1. disallows a judge from making you testify against yourself.

    2. Protects your right to say and publish what you want.

    3. Disallows the government from quartering troops in your home.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Somalia is thataway, you extremist.

  • Numeromancer||

    Followed by amendments introducing exceptions to these rights, which exceptions being the whole reason for introducing the bill in the first place.

  • ||

    A very good point.

    What the bill does is, instead of protecting rights that are already protected by the constitution, it codifies a process for getting around those rights.

    It's like a "protect your privacy" wall that only permits certain carefully defined peepholes. You're supposed to be reassured that your privacy is being protected because the size and shape of the peepholes are well-regulated.

  • Sudden||

    Menken said "A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin." Were Menken alive today, he'd revise that to indicate the man smelling flowers is looking around for his own coffin.

    The Orwellian doublespeak of the political class is so easy to see through, it strikes me as something of a miracle that so few actually do see through it.

  • Trespassers W||

    That tears it. Does anybody know of an email client that has PGP built in so that it's not a major pain to use?

  • califernian||

    there are several but they all eventually roll over for the FBI when counts.

  • califernian||

    Your best bet is never use electronic communication for anything, even criticising the govt. Signing off now. Forever.

  • Old Bull Lee||

    Countermail, located in Sweden. They explicitly state on their site that they will not comply with a court order from outside Sweden.

  • Trespassers W||

    Thanks, OBL. That looks promising.

  • Old Bull Lee||

    It has worked pretty well for me so far, including the Android setup. Of course if your friends aren't using PGP only your copies of messages are encrypted, BUT it's nice to know someone may put up a fight for your privacy.

    And that you won't find your password posted online one day like Yahoo, AOL, etc.

  • Numeromancer||

    You could try Tor Mail, on the tor network here.

  • Complainy Janey||

    So apparently the Department of Justice objected to having to take the time to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Fourth Amendment and claimed it could have an “adverse impact” on investigations. Rather than responding, “Yes, that’s the point,” Leahy capitulated.

    I actually heard this exact line of BS from some LEO person when NPR covered this the other night, and I was like...

    I guess they were trying to be fair and balanced.

  • OldMexican||

    So apparently the Department of Justice objected to having to take the time to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Fourth Amendment and claimed it could have an "adverse impact" on investigations. Rather than responding, "Yes, that's the point," Leahy capitulated.

    No, he didn't. He expected the objections and was looking forward to them so he could have the exact bill he wanted.

    Otherwise, he would've withdrawn the bill while telling the DOJ "then get ready to be taken to court every single time you read someone's e-mails."

  • ||

    Did they think that nobody who was interested in electronic privacy was actually going to read the revised bill?

    It boggles the mind some times, how often it appears that politicians operate on the principle that they can do whatever they want because nobody is paying attention.

  • Old Bull Lee||

    He had a cameo in The Dark Knight, so when he watched it I guess he didn't stay for the ending.

    "When you're finished, type in your name."

  • np||

    That's because they can do whatever they want even when some people are paying attention.

    I suspect people who don't have a Facebook account or who use encryption will automatically become suspect soon

  • califernian||

    The simple principle of "how to name a bill" is on full display.

    Whatever they name the bill, it generally is the exact opposite.

  • Sudden||

    This is why we libertarians should embrace and welcome the collapse more than making our efforts trying to convince our countrymen the necessity of avoiding it. Will there be widespread human suffering and misery when the reckoning comes? Of course. But the only way for the gradual encroachment of the police state to abate is if the govt is unable to pay the police.

  • Billy Boogers||

    Which is exactly why I pulled the lever for TEAM BLUE across the board two weeks ago.
    I figure the faster we get to the bottom, the sooner the fixing can begin.

    Why drag it out.......

  • ||

    What make you think libertopia is what comes after the collapse? That would require folks to critically analyze it and properly address its cause. I think that highly unlikely.

  • Scott S.||

    Leahy's office Tweeted that he doesn't support these warrant exceptions. I updated the story.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    So, as others have pointed out, what's the point? They already have the 4th Amendment for that.

  • Trespassers W||

    Does Twitter force people to sound like idiots, or is it mainly idiots that use Twitter?

    Answer: FALSE DICHOTOMY. It's both.

  • jdgalt||

    @Trespassers W: Use Mozilla Thunderbird with the "Enigmail" add-on.

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