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When you send a e-mail to your friends or family, you might think that it’s private. However, there are those in the federal government who have other ideas. Reports suggest that Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is planning to introduce revisions to H.R. 2471 which would allow law enforcement officials from more than 22 different agencies to access online communications without a warrant.
In some instances, these officials wouldn’t even need to notify the owner of the account or a judge. A subpoena would be necessary, but not a judge-issued warrant requiring probable cause. This is a dramatic rewrite to the bill, considering that it was written to increase digital security. After concerns from law enforcement, including the National District Attorneys’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association, the bill was taken in the opposite direction.
Not only would these agents be able to read personal e-mails, they would also have access to Google Docs, Facebook posts, browsing history, and direct messages on Twitter. If a provider wants to notify the user of this breach of privacy, they first must inform the government officials who have accessed the account. Currently, a citizen must be notified of surveillance within 3 days. This legislation would change that to 10 days and, if law enforcement chooses to delay notification, could be up to a year.
Leahy’s spokesman David Carle calls the reports “wrong,” saying that this information was pulled from a draft that is not being proposed. “Senator Leahy does not support broad carve outs for warrantless searches of email content,” says a Senate Judiciary aide. “He remains committed to upholding privacy laws and updating the outdated Electronic Privacy Communications Act.” It is also possible that Leahy is simply walking back his position in the face of criticism.
The bill is due to be discussed on November 29th, so there is time to make your voice heard. Be sure to tell congress to stay out of your e-mail before that date to maintain the integrity of our privacy and keep the government out of the correspondence of American citizens.