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.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: civil liberties, ecpa, ecpa reform, patent reform, patents, patrick leahy, politics, senate judiciary committee, usa freedom

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Michael, 28 May 2014 @ 10:10am

    for over a decade, Leahy has been the point person on patent reform in the Senate

    Please, try to keep the insults to a minimum Mike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Groaker (profile), 28 May 2014 @ 10:12am

    Over the years the commitment of Sen Leahy has come into question. To me it seems that the Senator is willing to make noise when initially braced with an issue, but has no follow through. So there are really two questions. Can he bring about change, and is he interested in such change?

    How was it possible for Leahy and his party to be completely stalled when they owned the Executive branch as well as both legislative branches. But in this time, when the other party was a minority in both houses and did not have the executive branch, they effectively had control of the nation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2014 @ 10:22am

    He's got a tough committee to work with

    The Judiciary committee is stacked with Authoritarian members including Feinstein, Graham, and Hatch. It'll be a miracle if Leahy can get his freedom act through without it being corrupted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2014 @ 10:26am

    Senator will deliver!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Donglebert The Needlessly Unready, 28 May 2014 @ 10:27am

    Does he hinder any chance of reform?

    With someone so "powerful" owning the reform platform, does that deter other senators from stepping up?

    And, if that is the case, is he aware that's happening?

    The question has to be asked as to what's actually important to him - improving the situation, grandstanding, or determinedly blocking reform because he's paid to?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    gorehound (profile), 28 May 2014 @ 10:32am

    To many opportunists in Gov for us to stop the spying and lying.I wonder if it is time for all the big Tech to have a little "Tech Revolution" ?
    The whole Gov relies on those guys too so what would happen if they gave the Gov two fingers in the air ?
    How are they even going to run their Gov without Tech and Tech Support ?
    Do we Computer Geeks have a hidden power we just have not used yet ?
    We won't get much done in Gov thanks to all the soldout and clueless politicians so maybe a little "shakeup " is in order ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Designerfx (profile), 28 May 2014 @ 10:45am

    all talk no walk

    He has been all talk from the get-go. Since when has he actually done anything of significance that actually went through positively?

    I lost my trust in him with PIPA and it will never return unless he acknowledges his own mistakes.

    I don't see that happening, so I think it's time to get him out of office.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 28 May 2014 @ 10:58am


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    nc alt, 28 May 2014 @ 11:12am

    Leahy is all talk

    Leahy has been always been useless. His rhetoric is always great, but astonishingly, he never ever gets anything useful done, and always disappears when the going gets tough. My guess is that he is somehow compromised by the NSA/CIA/FBI, and they pull on his leash whenever he threatens them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    avideogameplayer, 28 May 2014 @ 11:30am

    'I think I can, I think I can...Ooooo..something shiny!'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    saulgoode (profile), 28 May 2014 @ 12:56pm

    Of late, it seems that Congressional power is more a matter of being able to prevent things from getting done than actually being able to do anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Cpt Feathersword, 28 May 2014 @ 2:16pm

    Leahy talks big but at the end he always wimps out.

    Leahy is a paper tiger on anything important: Presidential nominees, patents and copyrights, filibusters, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In the end he is barely better than Feinstein.

    At least he puts up a better show than 95% of the Senate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 12:23am

    Money talks in Washington DC. Everything else get's stomped on. Including civil liberties, innovative upstarts, and anyone else who isn't rich enough to offer half the members in Congress thousands of dollars, each.

    America is a plutocracy not a democracy. The only time politicians pretend to be a democratic, is when they lie about what they'll do if elected to office. Then once in office they do the complete opposite of all the statements they made on the campaign trail.

    There should be a law against false advertising while on the campaign trail, but there's no money to be made in such a law, so the Bill would never make it through Congress.

    Senator Leahy, couldn't get anything passed even if he wanted to. He'd need over half of Congress to be non-corrupted by greed. I don't know if that's ever happened. That's assuming Senator Leahy isn't corrupt himself. Which is highly unlikely since he's in Congress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 1:14am

    I'm not sure why you assume that he alone can make anything happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Groaker (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 5:33am

    #1 Edward R Murrow did a pretty good job of stopping such a fit of insanity in its tracks -- and he was a journalist who accomplished it with a sentence.

    #2 Leahy is chair of that committee, which has a democratic majority. He is, and has been, in a position to exercise control as well as bring about investigations. One example was the Siebel Edmunds case, which included amongst other issues, spies in the FBI, where Leahy promised an investigation, and 14 years later it hasn't happened. We know that there have never been spies in the FBI, as Hanson and Miller are just boogiemen meant to frighten agent trainees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)


Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.