No, the Senate Will Not Be Voting to Spy on Your E-mail

No, the Senate Will Not Be Voting to Spy on Your E-mail

The senate proposal set for next week that "now authorizes warrantless access to Americans' e-mail," as CNET's Declan McCullagh exclaimed, doesn't actually do that, according to the Senator actually writing the bill. McCullagh cites an older version of the bill that would, in the words of The Drudge Report today, "LET FEDS READ YOUR EMAIL."

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. (CNET obtained the revised draft from a source involved in the negotiations with Leahy.)

Turns out, that's a former version of the privacy bill — not the one up for discussion in the Senate Judiciary Committee, reports Forbes's Kashmir Hill. A spokesperson for Patrick Leahy, the Senator behind the bill, told Hill that McCullagh was plain "wrong." She also spoke with sources "privy to conversations about the impending bill" who also confirmed that McCullagh had the wrong draft. Hill, however, does not have any other information on what the proposal will include.

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If the bill does include those changes, however, McCullagh is right that it would represent "an abrupt departure from Leahy's earlier approach," which required a warrant for e-mail searches. He has before said that his bill "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant." That's why it makes more sense that those are not included in the bill, or maybe Leahy is just denying it to save face for now and get the bill pushed through without criticism. The senator reportedly had to rewrite his original bill because certain law-enforcement groups didn't like the sounds of it. 

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A vote for the bill is scheduled for next week, at which point we will see the actual contents. But it doesn't look like it's as invasive as the version that McCullagh got his hands on. "Senator Leahy does not broad carve outs for warrantless searches of email content," a Senate Judiciary aide told Hill. "He remains committed to upholding privacy laws and updating the outdated Electronic Privacy Communications Act."

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Image via Shutterstock by Dusit