Congress

Email privacy update stalls in Senate

Shutterstock image: Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

A Senate panel dropped plans to vote on an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act on June 9 after a senior lawmaker refused retract an amendment that extended FBI access to certain electronic communications.

The bill updates a 1986 law that treats email on computers and email stored on remote servers differently for the purposes of law enforcement access. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in April.

Sen John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Senate majority whip, is pushing an amendment that allows federal investigators to obtain electronic communications metadata and other information without a warrant, on the basis of a National Security Letter, requiring the attestation of a senior FBI agent or official. Cornyn told committee members that the measure is the FBI director's current number one legislative priority. "This is an essential tool that they need," he said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member of the committee and a sponsor of the bill, said that Cornyn's proposal was a designed to derail the legislation.

"These last-minute things are poison pills. You want to take them up as separate legislation, do so," Leahy told reporters. "People have had to give on both sides to get here," noting that it took two years to get bipartisan consensus on the ECPA.  

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a cosponsor of the measure, is also opposed to the Cornyn amendment.  "While there are other concerns we had hoped to negotiate, the Cornyn National Security Letter amendment is something I cannot in good conscience have attached to this bill," he said. 

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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