Trust the US Senate to put a good legislative amendment on hold.
Having placed its collective head firmly in the sand over national cybersecurity, provoking the White House to prepare an Executive Order to tackle the issue, the upper house has now ducked an important due process issue -- or at least shelved it, until after the November election.
How often does Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have a smart idea about the Internet? This is the guy, after all, who tried to foist PIPA on us. His proposed amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act, however, would have done a great deal to protect individual and civil rights. As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy postponed discussion of his own draft, after several lobbying groups objected.
In essence, the amendment would have superseded provisions of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, rightly described by Leahy as "woefully outdated." Under the current law, the government can obtain emails and other stored data from an Internet Service Provider with nothing more than an administrative subpoena. Leahy's draft would require a warrant, obtainable only on a showing of probable cause -- a higher hurdle for the government to jump.
The only reason for hauling the Video Protection Act over the coals in the first place was with the apparently uncontroversial goal of allowing Netflix subscribers to integrate their viewing histories with their Facebook pages. The Leahy amendment, worthwhile though it seems, was a late add-on.
Who would seek to block passage of this seemingly sensible measure? Law enforcement, of course, or more specifically "the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, National Sheriffs' Association, the Major County Sheriffs' Association, Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association, Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, and the National District Attorneys' Association."
I guess due process is just too bureaucratic, time-consuming, and downright pesky for these associations and their members. They've asked for "a more comprehensive review of its impact on law enforcement investigations."
Will the proposal resurface after November? Leahy will still be around -- he's not up for re-election until 2016 -- but who knows? It would be nice to think that legislators could find a better way of dealing with digital issues than this combination of opportunism and obstructionism.
But why make a special exception?
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution