Patrick Leahy has again changed his mind about his email privacy bill. He originally announced that the bill would enhance online and e-mail privacy protections, but after Justice Department complaints, Leahy’s revised bill was expected to give more surveillance powers to government agencies. Leahy pushed back this week after CNET reported on the bill, but he has given little guidance regarding exactly what his position will be.
James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general at DOJ, has publicly warned that requiring warrants to gain access to stored e-mail could have an “adverse impact” on criminal investigations. Is that so? I think Mr. Baker should appear before the Senate to explain in detail what this impact could be. Not to be overly skeptical, but every U.S. law enforcement agency has addressed the requirements for issuance of search warrants for decades. District attorneys understand the rules and know that, if the case merits, they can obtain a warrant through well-defined channels 24 hours a day. How is it a greater burden to the feds than anybody else? My theory is that the “burden” lies in having to explain DOJ, CIA or NSA logic and investigation to a judge.
I’m not advocating naiveté. National security is a very dirty business carried out by many patriotic Americans. This mission is so dirty that most of us never want to observe the sausage-making process. Nonetheless, the Constitution offers the only real protections against the excessive actions of those who would wish to protect us. The rule of law is paramount if we are to avoid a “the ends justifies the means” approach to government. I hope Senator Leahy is listening to those who vigorously defend our Fourth Amendment protections. We’ll know on Thursday.