Senate Bill Expands Warrantless Federal Searches of Private Online Info

Senator Patrick Leahy has rewritten the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2011 to allow more than 22 agencies to access a citizen’s Internet accounts, after law enforcement agencies criticized far more consumer-friendly legislation. 

The bill authorizes access to email, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. Under the bill, the FBI and Homeland Security can gain full access to a citizen’s Internet account.

In June, Senator Leahy wanted to update a 1986 law to include new technology to protect citizens' privacy on the Internet and mobile phones. The amendments included requirements for a “search warrant to access any private communications and locations of mobile devices.” But The Department of Justice, the National District Attorneys’ Association, and National Sheriffs’ Association voiced displeasure with the proposed changes.

Now Senator Leahy is backing off his original amendments and will introduce the more intrusion-friendly bill next Thursday.

Many groups oppose the new legislation, including Apple, Amazon, eBay, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. If the law is passed, these companies could go to the courts, which have proven to be on their side. The Supreme Court ruled police must have a search warrant to put a tracking device on a citizen’s car. 

The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


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