Senate quietly approves warrantless email searches

by MICHAEL DORSTEWITZ , Biz Pac Review  |  published on December 28, 2012

email privacy

The Fourth Amendment outlawing unreasonable searches and seizures suffered a blow at the hands of the U.S. Senate this week.

On Nov. 29, a Senate panel approved a bill requiring law enforcement to obtain a search warrant prior to snooping into anyone’s private emails. Computer, Internet and social media executives applauded the move, as did constitutional scholars and the American Civil Liberties Union.

It marked the first step in an effort to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a law so convoluted that even members of the judiciary have trouble following it.

Prior to the committee vote, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, promised to simplify the language and make warrantless searches of private email accounts a thing of the past.

“Today, this law is significantly outdated and outpaced by rapid changes in technology and the changing mission of our law enforcement agencies after Sept. 11,” Leahy told a group of industry leaders, according to Declan McCullagh of CNET News. “At a time in our history when American consumers and businesses face threats to privacy like no time before, we must renew” America’s commitment to privacy.

However, the bill as approved in committee had a very limited lifespan — less than one month.

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