Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy took to Twitter on Tueday to announce that he does not support an amendment to Senate legislation that would allow law enforcement and government agencies warrantless access to private citizens’ e-mails, social media accounts and other digital files.
The bill is a revamping of the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, which prevents the “wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sales records.”
In its original form, the bill required law enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before accessing citizens’ digital communications. It was rewritten after organizations such as National District Attorneys’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association objected to the requirement. Department of Justice officials also reportedly agreed, speculating that it would have an “adverse impact” on criminal investigations,” according to CNET.
Leahy has previously touted the bill as symbolic of “the importance of protecting Americans’ privacy rights in cyberspace.”
At least 22 different government agencies would have had this exclusive access, including the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve and the Mine Enforcement Safety and Health Review Commission.
Some courts have ruled that tapping citizens’ cell phones without a warrant is unconstitutional and numerous states require the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before accessing private emails.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, is scheduled to vote on the Senate proposal next Thursday.