Current law protects the contents of most email and data transmitted online for 180 days by requiring law enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant, but some information—such as the sender and recipient—can be obtained more easily. Leahy seeks to require a warrant to access content no matter the time frame. His amendment would also require that the owner of the email account be notified of the search.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association wrote a letter to Leahy and Grassley in September opposing the warrant requirement for accessing email, which the group called “overreaching.”
Staffers to Leahy and Grassley said they are working behind the scenes to find common ground that might help advance the measure. Groups pushing for strengthened privacy protections are hopeful they can strike a compromise.
“There are a lot of issues that will need to be worked out, but the first step is very clearly to establish them,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The group launched a campaign last week with the Center for Democracy and Technology and other privacy advocates, including Internet companies, to get consumers involved in lobbying efforts for the Leahy amendment.
Tien said the crowded legislative agenda for the lame-duck session already made it unlikely the bill would reach the Senate floor, even before the Petraeus affair made national headlines. The groups see the potential markup of Leahy’s legislation as a conversation starter.
“At the very least, it sets the stage for next year,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, which is also a member of the campaign to strengthen electronic privacy protections.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.