Grassley office: Leahy working behind closed doors on privacy bill

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office leveled charges of working behind closed doors at Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and his office following allegations and denials that he is aiming to allow law enforcement’s push for warrantless surveillance.

Leahy’s office first used Twitter and his website to hit back against criticism following a Tuesday CNET report about the senator’s proposed amendment to a bill affecting two 1980s-era surveillance bills — the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, and the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Now Grassley, the committee ranking member, is charging that his office has been kept in the dark regarding the development of the bill.

Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine told The Daily Caller on Wednesday that neither “Sen. Grassley nor his staff have seen the new legislation proposed by Sen. Leahy,” stating that the bill is being rewritten “behind closed doors.”

“But, judging by the concerns on both sides of the issue, it may be time to take a step back, hold additional hearings to address concerns, and discuss the issues being raised instead of rewriting the bill behind closed doors,” she added.

The 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act was first crafted to prevent the “wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sales records.” The privacy protections applied to email, telephone and electronically stored data via ECPA, and were subsequently amended and weakened by various acts, including the Patriot Act.

Leahy first announced his effort to reform ECPA over two years ago, and introduced his ECPA amendment in the spring of 2011 to guarantee user privacy protections in the face of rapid communications technology innovation.

Law enforcement, afraid of losing the ability to monitor and track the digital communications of suspects and criminals, is asking lawmakers for broader surveillance capabilities.

Leahy’s office did not respond to TheDC’s request for further comment about who the senator has been working with on the issue.

A Senate Judiciary Committee aide, however, told TheDC that Leahy and his staff have had, and continue to have, discussions with various stakeholders in the privacy community, law enforcement “and many others.”

Leahy has also held at least two hearings on the issue since he first introduced the bill.

Despite Leahy’s calls for bipartisan and engagement on ECPA reform, Grassley’s office maintained that Leahy’s staff were non-responsive to their attempts to reach out to Leahy staffers to address concerns.

“Sen. Grassley’s staff reached out to Chairman Leahy’s staff a couple times since the September business meeting of the committee to address the concerns with the ECPA provisions before the chairman again brought up the bill for committee consideration, but they were not responsive,” Levine said.

“This process of working behind closed doors is a big problem and not the solution given such a complex issue with so many equities on the topic,” she said.

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