The United States government is set to vote on an e-mail privacy bill which, if passed, will enable government agencies to read Americans' e-mails without warrants.
CNET learned that Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has changed his initial legislation due to law enforcement concerns. A vote on his bill is due to take place next week.
The rewritten bill would essentially give more than 22 agencies (such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission) direct access to Americans' e-mail.
However, they'd also be allowed to view users' Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts and Twitter direct messages without the need for a search warrant. The FBI and Homeland Security in particular will be given more authority in terms of obtaining full access to internet accounts without notifying a judge nor the owner.
One participant partaking in Capitol Hill meetings based on the topic in question stressed that Justice Department officials expressed their dissatisfaction in regards to Leahy's original bill.
Associate deputy attorney general James Baker has warned that the requirement of receiving a warrant to obtain e-mails could have an "adverse impact" on criminal investigations.
Meanwhile, Christopher Calabrese, the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, added that having access to Americans' data without a warrant "undercuts" the intended purpose of Leahy's initial bill. "We believe a warrant is the appropriate standard for any contents."
Markham Erickson, a lawyer located in Washington, has followed the topic since its inception and spoke for himself and not his corporate clients when stressing his worry over government agencies receiving more power.
There is no good legal reason why federal regulatory agencies such as the NLRB, OSHA, SEC or FTC need to access customer information service providers with a mere subpoena. If those agencies feel they do not have the tools to do their jobs adequately, they should work with the appropriate authorizing committees to explore solutions. The Senate Judiciary committee is really not in a position to adequately make those determinations.