Leahy denies supporting warrantless email surveillance

Posted by Kate Taylor

Senator Patrick Leahy is denying reports that he'd been about to support a proposal allowing government agencies to access Americans' emails without a warrant.

Suggested amendments to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act proposals have been circulating, giving the right in certain cases to access emails with only an administrative subpoena.

But Leahy says he won't, as some have reported, be supporting the amendments, due to be discussed next Thursday.  His statement will come as a great relief to privacy campaigners.

"The rumors about warrant exceptions being added to ECPA are incorrect.  Many have come forward with ideas for discussion before markup resumes on my bill to strengthen privacy protections under ECPA," he says.

"As normally happens in the legislative process, these ideas are being circulated for discussion.  One of them, having to do with a warrant exception, is one that I have not supported and do not support."

Currently, the government has the right to examine emails that are older than 180 days without a warrant.

The suggested amendments to the new, privacy-friendly version would give 22 different federal agencies the right to search an individual's emails with an administrative subpoena - which doesn't require a judge's approval on the basis of probable cause.

"The whole thrust of my bill is to remedy the erosion of the public’s privacy rights under the rapid advances of technology that we have seen since ECPA was first enacted thirty years ago," says Leahy.

"In particular, my proposal would require search warrants for government access to email stored by third-party service providers – something that of course was not contemplated three decades ago."