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Warrantless Searches: Why Your Digital Privacy Is At Risk In The Senate

By Amir Khan on November 20, 2012 1:44 PM EST 0

Leahy
Patrick Leahy, who introduced the bill (Photo: Creative Commons)

A new Senate proposal, touted as a measure to protect American's email privacy, was quietly changed to allow the federal government to read your emails without a warrant, according to CNET. The vote on the bill is scheduled for next week. If the vote passes, it could deal a huge blow to your digital privacy.

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The bill, sponsored by chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee Patrick Leahy, would allow more than 22 agencies, including the FBI, SEC and FCC, to access the emails, Google Docs, Facebook posts, Twitter messages and more of all Americans -- all without a warrant. Even scarier, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security would be able to access all of your internet accounts without notifying the owner of the accounts or a judge.

The quiet rewrite of the bill is a vast departure from the bill's original intention, which would have required police to obtain a warrant before reading a user's emails. Last year, Leahy said the bill "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant."

A vote on the bill, which updates an outdated pair of 1980s surveillance laws, was scheduled for September, but was postponed after he National District Attorneys' Association and the National Sheriffs' Association asked Leahy to reconsider, CNET reported.

Many people objected to the quiet underwriting of the bill and allowing the Feds to snoop through your internet files without a warrant. One person, Markham Erickson, a lawyer in Washington, D.C. told CNET:

"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."

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