Senate quietly approves warrantless email searches


Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The Fourth Amendment outlawing unreasonable searches and seizures suffered a blow at the hands of the U.S. Senate this week.

On Nov. 29, a Senate panel approved a bill requiring law enforcement to obtain a search warrant prior to snooping into anyone’s private emails. Computer, Internet and social media executives applauded the move, as did constitutional scholars and the American Civil Liberties Union.

It marked the first step in an effort to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a law so convoluted that even members of the judiciary have trouble following it.

Prior to the committee vote, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, promised to simplify the language and make warrantless searches of private email accounts a thing of the past.

“Today, this law is significantly outdated and outpaced by rapid changes in technology and the changing mission of our law enforcement agencies after Sept. 11,” Leahy told a group of industry leaders, according to Declan McCullagh of CNET News. “At a time in our history when American consumers and businesses face threats to privacy like no time before, we must renew” America’s commitment to privacy.

However, the bill as approved in committee had a very limited lifespan — less than one month.

This week, the legislation’s language requiring law enforcement officials to show probable cause to obtain a search warrant as a requirement before viewing private emails was quietly removed before being sent to the White House.

In another move, Congress amended a similar law — the Video Privacy Protection Act — to allow companies like Netflix to obtain a blanket consent from consumers before sharing information with their Facebook friends about what movies or TV shows they’re watching.

The language’s removal means that government can continue its practice of viewing private emails stored by third parties — such as Internet service providers — after 180 days without first obtaining a warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union was incensed.

“If Netflix is going to get an update to the privacy law, we think the American people should get an update to the privacy law,” the ACLU’s Chris Calabrese told Wired magazine.

Read more at BuzzFeed Politics.

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9 thoughts on “Senate quietly approves warrantless email searches

  1. Ted says:

    I think emails should have the same protection as regular mail. Even though it is electronic, we should be confident that we don't have someone looking over our communications uninvited. If no warrants needed for emails, really, why do you need them to come and inspect your home. Keep the warrants needed. Contact your congressmen.

  2. Jack Anderson says:

    The police state we live in continues. This law needs to be

    challenged in court on 4th admendment constitutional grounds.

  3. Johno says:

    It would have been very informative to list how all the Senators voted on this bill.

  4. David Gwaltney says:

    Here's a thought: The American People should have the priviledge of searching all the emails of our elected represented government officials, so that we can see what is happening behing closed doors…….Not holding my breath…………..

  5. Get Your Facts Right says:

    The headline on this story is misleading. The Senate passed a bill prohibiting warrantless e-mail searches not approving them. Does anyone even read these stories?

    1. Joe says:

      Read til the end dufus….Holy krikey!!

      "However, the bill as approved in committee had a very limited lifespan — less than one month.

      This week, the legislation’s language requiring law enforcement officials to show probable cause to obtain a search warrant as a requirement before viewing private emails was quietly removed before being sent to the White House."

  6. Doug says:

    More of King Obama's social agenda, once they peek at your e mail and you told a joke or said almost anything you can be detained for Terrorist acts??

  7. Rich says:

    It seems like people can't wait to give away their rights of privacy to those who know so much more what is good for us. It all boils down to lack of leadership.

  8. kay sieverding says:

    U.S. warrantless wiretapping is just part of a terrifying decline in rights. I don't have a criminal record. The U.S. Department of Justice detained me three times for 5 months without a criminal charge, without a bail hearing as required by 18 USC section 3142, and without an evidentiary hearing. I was told in Federal Court that I didn't have a right to an attorney or to an evidentiary hearing before being sent to jail. The witnesses against me weren't sworn and I was not allowed to cross examine them. The last time they discussed having a bail hearing but decided not to and then detained me for 22 days and took me 1200 miles in chains.

    I sued the government and DOJ filed that this was totally legal. Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 608 says "Specific instances of the conduct of a witness, for the purpose of attacking or supporting the witness' credibility, other than conviction of crime as provided in Rule § 609, may not be proved by extrinsic evidence." but without following any allowed or written procedure, DOJ filed in Court that I deserved it because of my "abusive" litigation conduct. DOJ emailed to me that it is opposed to having an evidentiary hearing on that.

    DOJ published a Privacy Act Notice in the Federal Register, Vol. 69 P. 23213 that "The Prisoner Processing and Population Management/Prisoner Tracking System (PPM/PTS) is maintained to cover law enforcement and security related records which are generated in the local USMS district offices in connection with the processing, safekeeping, and disposition of Federal prisoners who are in custody pending criminal proceedings." However, DOJ filed in Federal Court, District of Columbia 09-0562 document 8-1 page 23 that no criminal proceeding is required to legally use the PTS. DOJ has also filed in Federal Court that DOJ can put photos and fingerprints of non-consenting citizens who are not alleged criminal offenders into the Joint Automated Booking System and Judge Bates ruled that DOJ can fingerprint and photo citizens who are not alleged criminal offenders without their consent and keep this information in the JABS system. DOJ published a Privacy Act Notice in the Federal Register Vol 71 p 52821 saying that the "CATEGORIES OF INDIVIDUALS COVERED BY THE [Joint Automated Booking] SYSTEM: Alleged criminal offenders who have been detained, arrested, booked, or incarcerated." but filed in Court that no criminal charge is required for legal use of JABS.

    DOJ also filed in Court that a "bench warrant" doesn't require an oath or affirmation.

    The FBI sent me a letter showing that the United States Marshals Service entered non-existent criminal charges against me for "obstruction of court order" and "bail violations" into the NCIC. One of the Prisoner Tracking System reports shows that I was charged with "obstruction of court order", a crime, but the criminal division of DOJ says that they have no records of me. Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires that if a judge wants to charge you with criminal contempt he must first ask the U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute you but the U.S. Attorney's Office in the districts in which I was detained claimed they have no record of me.

    I was never sentenced or tried. The Federal Judge who ordered me detained, Edward Nottingham, said that I would be on indefinite detention until I did what he wanted — which was file motions that he and the insurance lawyers dictated to me. Nottingham resigned after the 10th Circuit reported that a prostitute claimed he asked her to lie to investigators about their relationship. According to 9 News of Denver, Nottingham was getting quantity discounts from the prostitute during the time he was assigned to my case. Nottingham was not randomly assigned to my case. Federal District of Colorado docket report for 02-1950 document 190 shows that my case was transferred directly to Nottingham. This was after one of the insurance defense attorneys discussed case assignment issues with one of the insurance companies– Lloyds of London — as shown in document 465, attorney bills that are verified under penalty of perjury as being correct.

    In July 2012, DOJ admitted that it doesn't have a record of the statute under which I was detained, strip searched, and taken to Colorado by force. However, despite the NonDetention Act, 18 USC section 4001, DOJ repeatedly filed in court that everything it did to me was legal.

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