Here's The Scoop

Senator Chuck Grassley
2013-04-29 16:02:47
The Scoop New Technology Warrants Review of the Privacy of Electronic Communications The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is the law that regulates government access to most every use of electronic communications from emails to documents and correspondence (like Facebook or Twitter) stored on the internet. Technology continues to evolve at record speeds, but the Electronic Communications Privacy Act has not been updated since it became law in 1986. Recently, businesses and privacy advocates have called for updates to the law to ensure that individual privacy is protected in the digital age. Most recently, when news stories revealed that the IRS could snoop without a warrant in private messages on social media sites to find evidence of tax cheats, it became even more apparent that the law needed a big-time update. The IRS�s actions are an example of why we�re seeing a growing distrust of government that is driving a significant amount of public opinion. The Senate Judiciary Committee last week passed an update to the law that would require the federal government to obtain a court-issued search warrant before getting access to all emails and other electronic communications. Right now, the threshold to obtain these types of communication is much lower. Because the law was written when email storage was largely unheard of, current law states that the federal government only needs a subpoena to start poking into private emails or other online communicators that are more than 180 days old. Given the advances in technology and the cost effectiveness of digital storage, there�s little doubt that the current law warrants review. However, we need to make sure that as this law is updated, the balance is maintained between the privacy and safety that was struck when the law was originally signed into law. Despite the need for updating the law, concerns have cropped up and should be addressed before the bill comes to the Senate for a vote. For example, the Chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mary Jo White, outlined concerns that the SEC will be limited from obtaining emails to investigate civil securities fraud statutes. Specifically, she states that the legislation in its current form could have an impact on the Commission�s �ability to protect investors and to assist victims of securities fraud.� She added that the vast majority of cases at the SEC are not criminal and therefore would be outside the scope of the commission�s ability to obtain a warrant�effectively limiting enforcement. In addition, I�m worried about the potential impact the warrant requirement will have on how warrant requests are prioritized. This legislation essentially delegates power to federal and state judges to determine a reasonable amount of time for a provider to respond to a search warrant. Different judges will undoubtedly have different standards. This could result in varying standards based upon the judge issuing the warrant and not the purpose for which the information is sought. Despite these concerns, bringing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act into the 21st century is necessary. Americans are increasingly distrustful of government and are demanding their privacy be kept intact from unwarranted intrusion from the federal government. On top of that, updating our privacy laws is essential for U.S. businesses that compete in a global economy where documents can be stored anywhere. It�s time Congress put the law in line with the time. Monday, April 29, 2013 Common-sense Spending Choices Congress took action last week to do what the Obama administration already had the authority to do in redirecting funds controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to reverse furloughs of air traffic controllers and prevent the shutdown of air traffic control towers. It�s obvious that expenditures in other areas should be cut at the FAA instead of furloughing essential employees such as air traffic controllers. Yet, legislative action was needed to overcome this attempt by the White House to use spending reductions required by the ongoing budget sequester for a public relations stunt. Furloughing air traffic controllers exaggerated the impact of budget sequestration because the FAA spends $2.7 billion on non-personnel costs, including $541 million for consultants, $179 million on travel, and $134 million on office supplies. The FAA failed to use its flexibility to make reductions elsewhere, even in anticipation of sequestration which became law a year and a half before it took effect. Under the measure passed by the Senate on Thursday and the House of Representatives on Friday, funds can be transferred to the FAA operations account from any other FAA account. In fact, in January, the White House Office of Management and Budget directed federal agencies to manage funds with public safety as a priority, if the scheduled sequester took effect, which it did on March 1. Since the administration continues to seem more interested in political maneuvers than in making smart spending choices with federal dollars, a broader-based bipartisan legislative initiative has recently been introduced to allow agencies flexibility to specify what employees are essential while implementing sequestration�s automatic cuts. Already in February, I voted for a bill that would have given the President flexibility for implementing sequestration. Unfortunately, the President opposed that measure as did the majority in the Senate. So much for accountability. Monday, April 29, 2013
April 29, 2013

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