Can Senator Leahy Actually Get Anything Done To Help With Civil Liberties And Innovation?

from the weakest-'powerful'-senator dept

Senator Patrick Leahy is often considered one of the most powerful Senators. He's the most senior Senator, third in the presidential line of succession (after the VP and the Speaker of the House) and the head of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. He's often presented as a "friend" to both the technology and civil liberties communities -- even though many in both of those communities still view him skeptically for his all out support for dangerous copyright legislation in the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which would have seriously messed with the underlying DNS structure of the internet. Even so, on a variety of other issues, including NSA reform, ECPA reform and patent reform, he's often been seen as leading the charge.

But over and over again, it seems that charge is... to go nowhere.

Politico has a story about how last week was a disaster for the tech industry in Washington DC. For all the talk about how Silicon Valley has been flexing its lobbying power, patent reform was killed, a good NSA reform bill was replaced with a bad one (leading the tech industry to pull its support) and the fight for immigration reform went the way it normally does -- nowhere beyond people yelling at each other.

But what I found even more interesting is just how powerless the "powerful" Senator seems to be on so many of these issues. Leahy has been the leading Senate voice for ECPA reform (requiring a warrant to search your electronic data) for years -- and it has pretty widespread support. And yet, he's unable to get it to move forward because the the SEC and IRS want to be able to read emails without a warrant. Really?

Similarly, for over a decade, Leahy has been the point person on patent reform in the Senate, promising to finally reform the system to stop abusive patents. The bill he finally got through in 2011 did absolutely nothing after it was watered down and watered down and watered down some more. And this year, when it looked like there might finally be a bill with at least a little (not nearly enough) progress towards stifling abusive patent practices, he got completely shut down by the trial lawyers and Harry Reid.

And, now we're basically relying on Senator Leahy to fix the NSA reform package. He introduced the companion to the USA Freedom Act in the Senate, and many in the tech and civil liberties communities are hopeful that Leahy will stand firm in actually reforming the NSA. And while he's been saying all the right things about reforming the NSA, given his track record, you have to start to wonder: can this super powerful Senator actually get this done right?

Yes, getting anything done in Congress is a pretty difficult process these days (perhaps for good reason). But we keep hearing about how Senator Leahy is so powerful and such a friend to innovation and civil liberties. But over the past few years, it's been a lot of tough talk, and nothing ever seems to actually get done. It really begins to make you wonder if he's such a "friend" to these communities after all.
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Filed Under: civil liberties, ecpa, ecpa reform, patent reform, patents, patrick leahy, politics, senate judiciary committee, usa freedom

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2014 @ 11:50am

    Maybe it's the sheer size of Congress that's the problem. When you have 435 or even 100 people in a legislative body, you need weird rules because if every member was able to submit legislation or amendments to legislation whenever they liked, nothing would ever get done.

    I wonder if it would improve things if we passed a constitutional amendment to reduce the Senate to 1 member per state instead of 2. (Not that 2/3 of the Senate would ever agree to that.)

    Or... maybe some Senators just need to grow a spine. If a majority of the Senate really wanted a particular bill passed, they could do so. Maybe that means changing the rules, maybe it means changing the leadership, but they could do it. But they don't.

    I think a big part of it is that they don't want real accountability. They LIKE that leadership can kill a controversial bill, so they don't have to go on record as having voted for or against it.

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