- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2016

An email privacy bill that passed unanimously in the House has run into trouble in a Senate committee as a result of an amendment that would expand the FBI’s warrantless access to internet users’ browser history.

Sponsors of the bill, Sens. Patrick J. Leahy and Mike Lee, pulled it from the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s markup agenda Thursday to continue to work out differences with Sen. John Cornyn, the author of the controversial amendment.

The underlying Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments (ECPA) Act is meant to strengthen and modernize protections for internet users by requiring police and other law enforcement agencies to get a warrant if they want a look at Americans’ stored emails.

But the amendment would expand the categories of data the FBI can access via national security letters — administrative subpoenas that require no judicial oversight. The amendment would authorize the FBI to demand a person’s internet browser history and internet protocol address, enabling investigators to see what websites a person visits, how much time is spent on a particular site and the location of the internet user.

“I worry anytime you give a lot of extra powers, there is always a potential for abuse,” said Mr. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, citing former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s investigations of Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders. “I have almost nightmares thinking what would a man like that do with the enormous enhanced powers in a digital age.”

Mr. Cornyn, Texas Republican, defended his amendment, noting that FBI Director James B. Comey has said getting those changes made is the bureau’s No. 1 legislative priority. He added that the changes would not allow the FBI warrantless access to the content of emails, rather just email metadata, including internet protocol addresses associated with messages.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, remained hopeful that a compromise could be worked out.

“It seems to me there are large areas of consensus, and it should be possible to reach a compromise that a large majority of the committee can support,” the Iowa Republican said.

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