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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 LeeGOP governor says Republican Party has to allow for differences Republicans urge probe into Amazon government cloud-computing bid: report Allowing a racist slur against Tim Scott to trend confirms social media's activist bias MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap On The Money: Democratic scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan | Progressives push on student debt relief No designated survivor chosen for Biden's joint address to Congress 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Biden says workers can't turn down job and get benefits | Treasury launches state and local aid | Businesses jump into vax push Grassley criticizes Biden's proposal to provide IRS with B The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns 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 The outdated provision is a holdover from the 1980s, when email storage capacity was a fraction of what it is today.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 SessionsOne quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors Biden fills immigration court with Trump hires Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE (R-Ala.) to create an emergency disclosure requirement and another by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThere will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 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 WydenBad jobs report amplifies GOP cries to end 0 benefits boost Putting a price on privacy: Ending police data purchases Overnight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states MORE (D-Ore.) raised concerns about a similar provision that made it into the Senate's Intelligence authorization bill.