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Online Pressure Helps Scuttle Warrantless Email Surveillance Bill

(File photo. Credit: Getty Images)

(File photo. Credit: Getty Images)

Ian Bush Ian Bush
Ian Bush is an anchor, reporter, news editor, and technology editor&nb...
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By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A report that the Senate Judiciary Committee was considering allowing federal agencies warrantless access to Americans’ email could not withstand the wave of criticism it met online. It appears the legislation is dead in the water.

One draft of an electronic privacy amendment to an unrelated bill would have given law enforcement sweeping new surveillance powers.

“I think this is an example of the public not liking what they see,” says Declan McCullagh, the chief political reporter at CNET.com, “and a senator moving very quickly and adroitly to respond to public criticism.”

McCullagh says it was Democrat Patrick Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, who first considered and then quashed the proposal after ‘hearing it’ from privacy groups and on Twitter, when the story hit the web.

“In general, most things that happen in Congress happen not behind closed doors,” he says, “but in obscure corners that not a whole lot of people pay attention to.”

A statement on the Vermont Senator’s website reads in part:

“The rumors about warrant exceptions being added to ECPA are incorrect. Many have come forward with ideas for discussion before markup resumes on my bill to strengthen privacy protections under ECPA. As normally happens in the legislative process, these ideas are being circulated for discussion. One of them, having to do with a warrant exception, is one that I have not supported and do not support.”

The bill — which would allow online video providers like Netflix to use social networking tools and update the Electronic Privacy Communications Act — is up for a committee vote next Thursday.

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