CNET is reporting that “A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans’ e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law.”
Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns, according to three individuals who have been negotiating with Leahy’s staff over the changes. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans’ e-mail, is scheduled for next week.
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.
If that wasn’t enough to disturb the masses, one of the agencies is none other than the Federal Reserve Bank which is a private institution with no oversight by any government officials. The bill conveniently refers to them as an “independent regulatory agency” under its definitions:
(5) the term “independent regulatory agency” means the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Mine Enforcement Safety and Health Review Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the Office of Financial Research, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and any other similar agency designated by statute as a Federal independent regulatory agency or commission;
CNET outlines the highlighted changes to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act:
- Grants warrantless access to Americans’ electronic correspondence to over 22 federal agencies. Only a subpoena is required, not a search warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause.
- Permits state and local law enforcement to warrantlessly access Americans’ correspondence stored on systems not offered “to the public,” including university networks.
- Authorizes any law enforcement agency to access accounts without a warrant — or subsequent court review — if they claim “emergency” situations exist.
- Says providers “shall notify” law enforcement in advance of any plans to tell their customers that they’ve been the target of a warrant, order, or subpoena.
- Delays notification of customers whose accounts have been accessed from 3 days to “10 business days.” This notification can be postponed by up to 360 days.
This bill is expected to be voted on next Thursday. Please make your voices known.