Grassley hints at changes on email privacy reform

Grassley hints at changes on email privacy reform
© Greg Nash

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider an email privacy bill next week, but Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks GOP Finance chairman raises concerns about Trump push to make payroll-tax deferral permanent MORE (R-Iowa) is dismissing the idea of simply taking up a House proposal that unanimously passed the lower chamber last month. 

"There is some feeling, I don't know if it is among members or outside groups, that since this bill passed the House 400-0 that we should just accept it," Grassley said Thursday. "My judgment is the Senate ought to do its due diligence on it."

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The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism MORE (Vt.) quickly corrected him, noting that the bill passed the House 419-0. 

The committee is slated to take up a bill sponsored by Leahy and Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Overnight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure MORE (R-Utah.). 

Among other things, it would ensure that law enforcement gets a warrant before forcing technology companies to hand over a customer's emails or other electronic communications. It would also close off a loophole that allows law enforcement to use a subpoena — rather than a warrant — to get the emails if they are more than 180 days old. 

Grassley hinted there could be bipartisan changes to the bill, but is not anticipating them. 

"And so that will come out next week depending on what sort of bipartisan agreement we can get if there is going to be any changes," he said. "And I'm not anticipating any, because I just don't know at this point."

Privacy advocates have been pressing for reform for the past few years. There had been minimal progress until recently, when House lawmakers brokered a compromise to make small changes to the bill. It was eventually approved by the entire chamber in April. 

With the recent movement, the reform appears to be one of the few standalone pieces of legislation that could get to President Obama's desk in a tight election-year schedule. A number of federal agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission still have problems with the legislation. 

Leahy noted the broad support from an unlikely mix of interest groups. 

"Either it is a darn good bill or one of them doesn't understand it," he said. "But I think we ought to, I would hope next week would bring that up and we could pass it."