Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns

Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns
© Greg Nash

The Senate Judiciary Committee has delayed a vote on a widely supported email privacy bill amid concerns from a handful of Republicans. 

The authors of the bill — Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeFix the climate with smaller families Bolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGraham says Bolton briefed him on Iran, tells Trump to 'stand firm' Overnight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon Key Republican 'convinced' Iran threats are credible MORE (D-Vt.) — asked that a vote be delayed for a few week after a series of amendments were filed late Wednesday night that privacy advocates warned would weaken reform.  

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Leahy said he was "surprised" that some of the amendments were filed by co-sponsors of the legislation. Lee said he looked forward to working to "resolve those concerns" in the next few weeks. 

Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending On The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Canada, Mexico lift tariffs on US goods after Trump scraps steel, aluminum levies MORE (R-Iowa) said he was ready to move forward to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act but agreed to delay a vote at the authors' request. 

After a breakthrough in the House, the lower chamber unanimously passed the bill last month. They delay is a setback for advocates who have pushed reform for five years. 

The bill closes off a loophole in the 1986 law to ensure that law enforcement gets a warrant before forcing technology companies to hand over customers' emails or other electronic communications, no matter how old they are. 

Though the provision is generally not used anymore, the law technically allows the government to use a subpoena, rather than a warrant, to get emails if they are more than 180 days old. The outdated provision is a holdover from the 1980s, when email storage capacity was a fraction of what it is today. 

Ahead of the Thursday vote, nine amendments were filed. They included one by Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump Chris Wallace: AG Barr 'clearly is protecting' Trump Appeals court rules Trump end of DACA was unlawful MORE (R-Ala.) to create an emergency disclosure requirement and another by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (R-Texas) to expand the government’s use of National Security Letters, a search procedure that gives the FBI power to compel private institutions to disclose information. 

Cornyn defended his amendment, saying that it is an addition supported by the Obama administration. Privacy hawks like Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenIRS audit rate down in fiscal 2018 Oregon man sentenced after threatening to chop off Dem senator's tongue House to vote on retirement bill next week MORE (D-Ore.) raised concerns about a similar provision that made it into the Senate's Intelligence authorization bill.