Apparently, Congress Isn't Actually Interested In Requiring A Warrant For Law Enforcement To Read Your Email
from the it-was-all-a-charade dept
Yes, we’ve already covered the rejection of key amendments in the FISA Amendments Act renewal, but that wasn’t the only case of Congress ignoring the public’s privacy concerns as they close out this session.
Back in September, we noted that Senator Patrick Leahy, who has been working on much needed reforms for ECPA (the Electronic Communications Privacy Act) — such as requiring law enforcement get a warrant to read your email — had attached his ECPA reform plan to an update of the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). While I know some privacy folks were worried about this update to the VPPA, I don’t have much of a problem with it. The original VPPA, written as a quick response to a video store revealing Robert Bork’s (somewhat boring) video rental history during his Supreme Court nomination hearings, did seem a bit limiting — especially for online video sites such as Netflix that wanted to add some useful social features. However, it was the ECPA reform part that was more important. Attaching ECPA reform to VPPA reform didn’t make some privacy folks happy, but they seemed willing to go along with the VPPA changes if it really meant that we’d get warrant requirements for emails and other digital messages.
There were some attempts to water down that ECPA reform at the end of last month, but the Senate Judiciary Committee kept the warrant requirement in there and rejected various attempts to weaken the bill. As we noted, however, it still was a long way from becoming law, given the need to pass a full Senate vote and to have a companion House bill make the rounds. We assumed that there would be no movement until next year and the new Congress.
But… late last week, the House rubberstamped the VPPA update, and the Senate, almost immediately signed off on the House’s version, which the President is expected to sign any moment now. In case you missed it, that means that the ECPA reforms — which were supposed to be bundled with the VPPA to make the whole thing palatable — got dropped entirely. And now we get the VPPA reforms and no ECPA reform at all. Neat trick. “Bundle” two things to get support… and then at the last minute drop one part and rush through the other.