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Bill: Feds Can Read Email Without Warrant

A Senate bill originally touted as a guardian of American privacy has been rewritten to allow federal agencies access to Internet accounts without a warrant.

by / November 21, 2012

A Senate bill that was originally promoted as protecting email privacy was changed to do the opposite. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, rewrote the bill to allow 22 government agencies to access to citizens' email, Google Doc files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a warrant. Scheduled to be voted on next week, the bill would also allow the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to gain full access to users' accounts, according to CNET.

Leahy spoke about his original bill last year, saying it "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by ... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant." Changes to the bill reflect concerns from law enforcement groups including the National District Attorneys' Association and the National Sheriffs' Association. Likewise, Associate Deputy Attorney General James Baker warned that requiring the government to obtain a warrant for viewing email could have an "adverse impact" on investigations.

ACLU lawyer Christopher Calabrese expressed concerns over the revised bill, making this statement to CNET: “We believe a warrant is the appropriate standard for any contents."

Leahy once criticized the FBI's efforts to create mandates for Internet providers to provide backdoors for law enforcement. However, he also authored the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act and the Protect IP Act, both of which were opposed by Fourth Amendment activists.

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