Sen. Patrick Leahy

Key E-Mail-Privacy Senator Denies a Turn to the Dark Side

by DAVID KRAVETS,  |  published on November 22, 2012

Patrick Leahy, the Vermont chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and legislative aides denied a report Tuesday that the Democrat had reversed himself on legislation that would require authorities to obtain a probable-cause warrant to get access to all e-mail and other content stored in the cloud.

Leahy’s comments on Twitter and on his website came hours after CNET reported that Leahy was pushing a new draft of the proposal that, instead of tightening the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, would actually expand the government’s authority to obtain e-mail without warrants.

He did not deny that the anti-privacy version of the bill was circulating on the Hill, but said it did not have his support, and that he would not be backing it at a planned November 29 public committee hearing.

“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,” Leahy said on his site. “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.”

The draft uncovered by CNET would have given 22 federal agencies access to Americans’ e-mails with an administrative subpoena, which does not require judicial approval based on probable cause.

The ACLU, which has been involved in discussions over the legislation, backed Leahy’s version of events, and said he never supported the anti-privacy draft.

“This was a discussion point,” said Chris Calabrese, the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “He’s not interested in doing that.”

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