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 LeeMcConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package McConnell tries to unify GOP Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBattle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts 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 GrassleyCollins says she will vote 'no' on Supreme Court nominee before election The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, GOP allies prepare for SCOTUS nomination this week Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year 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 The outdated provision is a holdover from the 1980s, when email storage capacity was a fraction of what it is today.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 SessionsGOP set to release controversial Biden report Trump's policies on refugees are as simple as ABCs Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status MORE (R-Ala.) to create an emergency disclosure requirement and another by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Liberal super PAC launches ads targeting vulnerable GOP senators over SCOTUS fight Senate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court 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 WydenGOP set to release controversial Biden report Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate GOP senator blocks Schumer resolution aimed at Biden probe as tensions run high MORE (D-Ore.) raised concerns about a similar provision that made it into the Senate's Intelligence authorization bill.