Now, some 230-odd years later, some descendants of those brave men and women are hell-bent on returning America to that earlier time, when an all-powerful central regime trampled, at will, the rights of the people they were meant to serve.
How else to explain a piece of legislation now under consideration in the Senate that would give the federal government the “right” to pry into everyone’s email without a search warrant?
The measure, offered by long-serving Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, initially sought to protect private email from the snooping, prying eyes of government, but as is often the case, the bill was quietly rewritten to actually give government permission to bypass constitutional protections and snoop into your email at will.
The Constitution continues to be shredded
According to CNET:
Leahy’s rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — to access Americans’ e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.
Both versions of Leahy’s bill, according to published reports, were aimed at updating 1980’s-era surveillance laws. The first version; however, required authorities to obtain a search warrant, backed by probable cause (as the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states) before accessing emails and other forms of protected communications.
That version; incredibly, was opposed by federal law enforcement agencies, CNET reported, including the Justice Department’s associate deputy attorney general, James Baker, who has gone on record in opposition of making his agency abide by the nation’s governing document.
Sadly, state-level law enforcement groups including the National District Attorneys’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association were also opposed. Together, they all pushed Leahy to change his legislation from one that would better protect Americans’ constitutional rights to one that further trampled them.
And he listened.
In its rewritten version, Leahy’s measure:
— Allows authorities to have warrantless access to Americans’ electronic correspondence to more than 22 federal agencies; only a subpoena is required, not a search warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause.
— Allows state and local law enforcement agencies to get in on the act, permitting them to also access Americans’ electronic correspondence on systems not offered “to the public,” including university networks – all without a warrant.
— Permits any law enforcement entity to access accounts without a warrant, or follow-up court review, if they say an “emergency” situation exists.
— Requires ISP’s (internet service providers) to notify law enforcement entities before they inform customers they have been the target of a warrant, order or subpoena.
— Delays notification of ISP customers whose accounts have been accessed by law enforcement from three to “10 business days,” but that notification can be postponed for up to 360 days – nearly a year.
All for making the changes – Until he got caught
Only lawmakers who have grown comfortable with, and accustomed to, trampling the Constitution would even propose such legislation. Ditto for the heads of federal agencies that support such trampling.
The good news is, as of this writing, the measure has been withdrawn – at least for now. Publication of the details of Leahy’s scheme caused the multi-term senator and former prosecutor (surprised?) to declare he would not support it in its rewritten form when it comes up for a vote next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.
It’s too bad it took publishing the details of this outrageous legislation, as well as pressure from outside groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology, to force Leahy’s change of heart, instead of his own colleagues who, like him, seem to think as much of our founding document as King George did some 230 years ago.
But if this bill came up once, it will come up again. We’ll stay tuned.