Morning Read: Leahy Privacy Bill Sails Through Judiciary Committee | Off Message

Morning Read: Leahy Privacy Bill Sails Through Judiciary Committee

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Remember back when everybody was wigging out about Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) allegedly pulling a switcheroo and swapping out a bill that would increase electronic privacy for one that would erode it?

As you may recall, CNET's Declan McCullagh reported last week in a thinly-sourced story that Leahy had "quietly rewritten" legislation originally intended to require law enforcement officials to obtain warrants before accessing old emails. Citing anonymous sources, McCullagh reported that Leahy had flip-flopped and planned to back a new version of the bill "giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law."

Well, Vermont's senior senator put that rumor to rest Thursday when he presided over a unanimous Senate Judiciary Committee voice vote strengthening email privacy rules, as the New York Times reports:

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the committee, was an architect of the 1986 law and is leading the effort to remake it. He said at the meeting on Thursday that e-mails stored by third parties should receive the same protection as papers stored in a filing cabinet in an individual’s house.

“Like many Americans, I am concerned about the growing and unwelcome intrusions into our private lives in cyberspace,” Mr. Leahy said. “I also understand that we must update our digital privacy laws to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology.”

Leahy's bill now moves to the Senate floor, where it's not expected to receive a vote before the end of this Congress. In press accounts, Leahy characterized the Judiciary Committee's vote as a first step preceding negotiations with the committee's House counterpart next year.

You can read more about yesterday's vote in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Hill.

As for CNET's McCullagh?

When Leahy's office immediately and forcefully contested the accuracy of the reporter's account, McCullagh interpreted that as "an about-face" that came "in response to a deluge of criticism" prompted by his own story. Yesterday, McCullagh seemed pleased as punch to report that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had apparently alluded to his story in remarks at the committee meeting.

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