House Republicans urge senators to resist SEC email power grab

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Members of the House are urging their colleagues in the Senate to reject the Securities and Exchange Commission’s efforts to maintain the power to conduct warrantless surveillance of electronic communications.

The SEC, in order to investigate fraud and abuse of the financial markets, is looking to retain the power to search through electronic communications.

Objectors to this program — viewed by its critics as a power grab by the agency — argue that the privacy of the suspects under investigation would be compromised if an Internet service provider handed over a person’s records in bulk.

A person under investigation by the agency, they argue, would be better suited at sorting through the relevant communications instead of an ISP.

Several Republican congressmen — Kevin Yoder of Kansas, Tom Graves of Georgia, Justin Amash of Michigan, chairman of the Bipartisan Privacy Caucus Joe Barton of Texas, and  chairman of the Republican Study Committee Steve Scalise of Louisiana — criticized the agency for attempting to side-step the Fourth Amendment.

“The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution requires the SEC to get a warrant to read postal mail — why should it be any different for email?” said Yoder in a statement.

“If we carve out one civil agency, every civil agency would clamor for an exemption and email privacy reform would be rendered meaningless,” he said.

Amash, in a statement, urged the Senate to “expedite consideration of the Leahy-Lee bill and to reject agencies’ attempts to gut its important protections.”

The House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) sponsored by Yoder and Graves that requires federal agencies to obtain a warrant when seeking to obtain the electronic communications of an individual under investigation.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, penned an op-ed in the Washington Times on Tuesday stating that the SEC sought “to hijack pending legislation to snoop on Google and Facebook accounts without paying attention to Fourth Amendment protections.”

Sen. Ron Johnson introduced two amendments to the embattled Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill on Monday aimed at limiting the reach of the federal agencies into people’s electronic communications.

One amendment specifically prohibited the use of funds by the Internal Revenue Service or the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protect “to require the disclosure of certain communications without a warrant;” the other named “the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies.”

“Under the Johnson amendment, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and related agencies of THUD will, in line with the constitutional right to be “secure in our persons, houses, papers and effects,” have to obtain a warrant before accessing a consumer’s online records and data,” said Johnson’s office in a statement.

Greg Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology, told The Daily Caller that he thought Johnson’s amendment was similar to Yoder’s amendment.

“I think Johnson’s doing what he can do on this bill,” Nojeim said. “That’s the reality — there’s some agency funded, he can amend the bill to make sure those agencies, to the extent that they conduct regulatory investigations, have to get warrants, but he can’t really go beyond that in this bill. That would be out of order, I think.

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