Senate Bill Lets US Government Read Your E-Mail

Have you heard about the bill that would allow for warrantless email searches? It looks like legislation is being discussed that would allow government agencies to read emails, Facebook messages and other forms of electronic communication without a warrant. If passed, the bill would allow more than 22 federal agencies to read private emails without a warrant. So much for privacy protection right? Under current law, police only need an administrative subpoena, issued without a judge’s approval, to read emails that have been opened or that are more than 180 days old. Police simply swear an email is relevant to an investigation, and then obtain a subpoena to force an Internet company to turn it over. The new legislation if passed will exempt more than 22 federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve, from the warrant requirement. The bill would give the FBI and the Homeland Security Department even more extensive powers in some circumstances, allowing them to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying the owner or a judge, according to CNET.

Patrick Leahy

Revised bill highlights

  • Grants warrantless access to Americans’ electronic correspondence to over 22 federal agencies. Only a subpoena is required, not a search warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause.
  • Permits state and local law enforcement to warrantlessly access Americans’ correspondence stored on systems not offered “to the public,” including university networks.
  • Authorizes any law enforcement agency to access accounts without a warrant — or subsequent court review — if they claim “emergency” situations exist.
  • Says providers “shall notify” law enforcement in advance of any plans to tell their customers that they’ve been the target of a warrant, order, or subpoena.
  • Delays notification of customers whose accounts have been accessed from 3 days to “10 business days.” This notification can be postponed by up to 360 days.
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