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Law enforcement is about to read everyone's email and browsing history -- without a warrant

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 20th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The government is about to get sweeping power to read your email, search your Facebook, and even read messages sent at work or on other private email networks, all without a warrant. You can thank Senator Patrick Leahy for the intrusion.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, originally sponsored a bill that would increase your privacy online. However, protests from law enforcement have caused him to rewrite the bill to weaken it, significantly.

The new version of the bill would allow some 22 government agencies the power to snoop your inboxes to read email, Facebook posts, and Twitter direct messages, as well as Google Docs and messages sent on private networks, all without a warrant and with no urgency to notify you that it happened.

The bill would even allow the FBI and Homeland Security full access to your internet accounts without so much as notifying you or a judge. Even your private browsing history could be searched.

Originally, the bill was written to require a warrant signed by a judge and backed by probable cause before such an intrusive search could be conducted. Now, all of that becomes unnecessary for prying eyes. Now that law enforcement has had their say, it's been dramatically rewritten.

Among the outrageous provisions now written into the bill:

-At least 22 federal agencies may now have warrantless access to your electronic correspondence with as little as a subpoena. No more permission from a judge is required, and no warrant backed by probable cause is necessary.

-Any law enforcement agency may access your email including private accounts such as those used at a school, university, or at work.

-Any agency may read your email at any time if they declare an "emergency" need to do so. There will be no court review before this happens; shoot first ask questions later.

-Internet and other providers must tell law enforcement officials first if they plan to notify victims of this surveillance of any intrusion. This amounts to asking permission to tell you that your private correspondence has been read. It is a 180 degree reversal from existing policy.

-The bill delays notification of customers from the current 3 day requirement to 10 business days. Those 10 business days can be dragged out to a year if law enforcement chooses.

This means that law enforcement can now monitor your personal communications at almost any time under the pretext of an "emergency."

Currently, most Americans would assume this would involve terror suspects and the need to move quickly and quietly to investigate their online activities. However, getting permission to access the private networks of suspected terrorists isn't that difficult.

Instead, the aim of various agencies is to use these sweeping new permissions to investigate anyone they deem to be engaged in illegal activity. More than likely, they may "discover" illegal activity that was not previously sought as a result of a warrantless search - and they can prosecute.

Presently, the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant supported by probable cause and included in the warrant shall be a description of what is sought. This protection would be stripped by the new law.

While the proposal appears to be blatantly unconstitutional, privacy advocates should not rely on this defense. The government routinely passes laws that are later found to be unconstitutional, and occasionally, supreme courts uphold them.

The Supreme Court of the United States once upheld slavery, segregation, the oppression of women, and more recently, ruled against religious freedom as per Obamacare and the HHS contraception and abortifacient edict, which is still being fought in several states.

Also worrying the matter is the reality that the internet remains a sort of virtual "untamed" wild west where the laws and rules remain vague. The current bill is only just now attempting to update a 1980's era privacy bill to meet online concerns.

Most internet service providers are objecting to the proposed bill because it strips privacy rights away from customers. As more service providers try to encourage their clients to use cloud-based services, the erosion of internet privacy is discouraging them. Users enjoy more privacy if they retain their information on hard drives, media devices such as USB drives, or even in a cookie jar.

If the law passes, it will be a setback for online privacy as well as the civil rights of all Americans. A vote on the bill is expected next week.

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