Did Sen. Leahy already flip-flop on his warrantless e-mail surveillance bill?
By End the Lie
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) seems to have rapidly reversed his position – at least publicly – on his controversial proposal that would give U.S. government agencies even more surveillance power beyond the already outlandish powers they claim to have.
This proposal would, as Brent Daggett outlined in his article earlier today, give government entities the power to access Americans’ private e-mail accounts without obtaining a search warrant.
Apparently Leahy rapidly changed his position, evidenced by a statement on his official Twitter account saying, “Leahy does NOT support such an exception for [Electronic Communications Privacy Act] search warrants.”
This statement came just hours after Declan McCullagh of CNET published an article exposing Leahy’s troubling proposal.
Leahy’s proposal met sharp criticism from a variety of entities including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said that warrants should indeed be required for the government to gain access to Americans’ e-mails, along with FreedomWorks, a conservative group.
FreedomWorks launched a petition effort entitled, “Tell Congress: Stay Out of My Email!” that has already resulted in 3,631 messages sent. Over 1,300 of those messages have been sent over the past five hours alone.
Leahy’s proposal is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee next Thursday and the proposed amendments were to be attached to a substitute to H.R. 2471, which has already been approved by the House of Representatives.
Yet, when contacted by CNET in an attempt to clarify what exactly Leahy would be supporting next week, Leahy’s spokesman did not respond.
A Democratic aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, told CNET that Leahy “Leahy does not support broad exceptions for warrantless searches of e-mail content.”
That would seem to imply that he does support some exceptions, just not “broad” ones. Of course that just leaves one wondering what “broad” really means and who is responsible for determining such a definition.
In an apparent response to the earlier CNET article, Leahy’s official Twitter account stated, “Technology has created vacuum in privacy protection. Sen. Leahy believes that needs to be fixed, and #ECPA needs privacy updates.”
“That’s a reference to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which currently does not require that police always obtain a warrant for the contents of e-mail and other communications,” said McCullagh.
This new position might appease some privacy advocates, at least for now, but it leaves many questions unanswered since we really do not know the substance of what Leahy is after here.
An industry coalition attempting to work for surveillance reforms, coordinated by the Center for Democracy and Technology stated earlier today, “We wouldn’t support the rewrite described in CNET.”
Yet the Center for Democracy and Technology’s coalition is by no means what I would consider a group interested in privacy.
Some members of the coalition, in fact, clearly work against Internet privacy, while others, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are indeed advocates of privacy and due process.
Some of the members of the coalition include Apple, Amazon, AT&T, eBay, Google, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Twitter.
Obviously Google, with its close ties to various government agencies and its never-to-be-revealed, highly suspicious relationship with the National Security Agency (NSA), really has no interest in privacy.
Google also complies with more requests for user information from the United States than any other nation in the world while the U.S. also files far more requests than any other nation.
One must also keep in mind that surveillance is the core of Google’s business model so, in my opinion, any involvement on their part should be treated skeptically.
Similarly, AT&T is now somewhat infamous for their work in helping roll out the NSA’s massive illegal surveillance system, Facebook was busted for spying on users’ text messages and engaging in other breaches of privacy while they also recently acquired an Israeli facial recognition company to further flush out their Big Brother-style operation, and Apple was busted in 2011 for tracking iPhone users.
His proposal, according to CNET, would have “allowed over 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 have given 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.”
Leahy’s new position isn’t the first time he’s flip-flopped on this issue as his earlier approach required that law enforcement agencies obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before they could read e-mails or other communications.
Hilariously, Leahy bragged last year that his bill “provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by… requiring that the government obtain a search warrant.”
Clearly privacy isn’t Leahy’s top priority, evidenced not only by his flip-flopping but also by an unnamed individual participating in meetings surrounding the issue on Capitol Hill.
The anonymous individual told CNET that “Justice Department officials have expressed their displeasure about Leahy’s original bill.”
Indeed, the Justice Department’s opposition is on the record with James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general, claiming that the requirement to obtain a warrant before obtaining e-mails could have an “adverse impact” on criminal investigations.
Those who keep abreast of issues like this likely recognize the same, tired excuses that are always put forward when attempting to justify the eradication of our most essential rights.
Leahy’s position on privacy is all over the place, to say the least:
- At one point he criticized the FBI’s push to require Internet providers to build in backdoors for easy law enforcement access.
- In the 1990s, Leahy introduced a bill which would protect Americans’ right to use any and all encryption products as they see fit.
- Then, in 1994, he authored the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) which hardly protects Americans’ right to privacy.
- Leahy was also behind the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which was met with massive public opposition.
- A 2001 article in The New Republic stated that Leahy’s involvement with the Patriot Act “appears to have made the bill less protective of civil liberties.”
- Leahy also had attempted to push portions of what would later become the Patriot Act a year earlier under the name Enhancement of Privacy and Public Safety in Cyberspace Act (PDF).
It’s not hard to see that Leahy is duplicitous, at best. His positions appear to shift whenever he thinks it would benefit him to do so and these changes are clearly not consistent with one who would, above all, protect the rights of the American people.
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