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Revised Privacy Bill Doesn't Win Prosecutors' Support

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Revisions to Leahy’s proposal provide officials more time to notify individuals that their data was accessed and clarify that existing federal surveillance laws will not be overridden.

The group is a member of the Digital Due Process Coalition, which brings together nonprofit advocates and companies such as Google and Microsoft to press for stronger data protections. The Center for Democracy and Technology and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which are also members, are endorsing Leahy’s revisions.

“Leahy has kept the warrant requirement for basically all content, which we’re very happy about. We’d definitely be happy to see that become law,” said Ross Schulman, a lawyer for the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a member of the pro-privacy coalition.

The privacy groups did express concern about the extended time that law enforcement officials will have under Leahy’s latest proposal to notify consumers that their data was accessed. The new version doubles the amount of time, to 180 days. Agencies can also issue a gag order that prevents companies from notifying their customers of the access for the same time period.

Privacy groups prefer that lawmakers leave in place the 90-day notification rule under current law, but they plan to support the measure regardless.

The groups hope the Leahy amendment, regardless of whether it passes, will encourage a broader debate in the next session of Congress over data privacy.

The widespread access that officials have to emails and electronic data came into the spotlight during the recent scandal that led to the resignation of CIA Director David H. Petraeus. The FBI went through thousands of emails during a harassment investigation, unearthing Petraeus’ extramarital affair in the process.

In the House, members of both parties have expressed interest in the issue. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has introduced a bill (HR 2168) to require a warrant before officials can access location data through mobile devices or global positioning systems. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has put forth a measure (HR 6529) that combines the proposals by Chaffetz and Leahy, and she has already stated that she will reintroduce it next year.

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