Online civil liberties groups were thrilled in May when Sen. Patrick
Leahy (D-Vermont), the head of the powerful Judiciary Committee,
announced legislation requiring the government, for the first time, to
get a probable-cause warrant to obtain Americans’ e-mail and other
content stored in the cloud.
But, despite the backing of a coalition of powerful tech companies, the bill to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act was dead on arrival, never even getting a hearing before the committee Leahy heads.
In contrast, another proposal sailed through Leahy’s committee, less
than two weeks after Leahy and others floated it at about the same time
as his ECPA reform measure. That bill, known as the Protect IP Act, was anti-piracy legislation
long sought by Hollywood that dramatically increased the government’s
legal power to disrupt and shutter websites “dedicated to infringing
This dichotomy played itself out over and again in 2011, as lawmakers —
Democrats and Republicans alike — turned a blind eye to important civil
liberties issues, including Patriot Act reform, and instead paid heed to
the content industry’s desires to stop piracy.