Senate bill to allow warrantless government access to your online services

A Senate bill that, at one point, would have protected e-mail privacy has gone the opposite way

In a dumbfounding display of politics at work, a U.S. Senate bill that, at one point, would have protected e-mail privacy has gone the opposite way, and would allow government surveillance of online services without a warrant if passed into law.

Previously, the bill protected users' privacy by requiring a warrant that established probable cause. CNET reports that U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who heads the Senate Judiciary committee, has rewritten the bill so that, in some cases, government agencies would need only a subpoena to access electronic communications, such as email, Facebook, and Google Docs.

In many cases, searches would still require a warrant. Still, if law enforcement claims that the situation is an emergency, the agency could gain access without a warrant or a subsequent court review.

CNet reports that the bill, HR 2471, could see a vote next week. Leahy was also behind the Protect IP Act (or PIPA), which collapsed in response to backlash from citizens, tech companies, and advocacy groups. Perhaps he's hoping the holiday weekend will prevent outrage from boiling over on this new--and equally terrifying--bill.

Details of the bill

Overall, 22 federal agencies would have access to electronic communications under these circumstances, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

Also, the rewritten bill states that online service providers, such as Google, would have to notify law enforcement in advance if the company planned to inform users about the account access. Notification would also be delayed from 3 days to 10 business days, and could be postponed up to nearly a year.

Apparently, Leahy changed course on the bill under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, which felt that its criminal investigations would be hampered by the need to secure search warrants.

Bill origins

The bill's original purpose was to allow Netflix to publish users' viewing history on services like Facebook, revising an old law that prevented movie rental histories from being disclosed. The part about law enforcement access to electronic communications is unrelated, and had been tacked on by Leahy with the goal of protecting user privacy. Now, the bill could achieve the opposite result.

The proposed bill comes at a time when government surveillance is on the rise. As Google noted last week, law enforcement made more requests for user information than ever during the first six months of 2012, the most recent reporting period for such requests.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags emailBusiness mobilityGooglesecuritylegislationgovernmentprivacyFacebook

More about BillCNET NetworksFacebookFederal Communications CommissionGoogleNetflixSecurities and Exchange Commission

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jared Newman

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts