(Adds comment from White House)
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, April 23 A coalition of liberals and
conservatives is lashing out at the U.S. Securities and Exchange
Commission for pushing back against legislation that would force
government agencies to get warrants before they access the email
of people under investigation.
The group, Digital 4th, on Wednesday launched
www.notwithoutawarrant.com, a website urging the public to lobby
the White House to support sweeping changes to federal privacy
laws proposed in Congress in 2013.
In a conference call with reporters, the group singled out
the SEC for stalling the reforms. It also called on President
Barack Obama to respond to a petition with more than 100,000
signatures in support of the bill, saying the SEC's opposition
has caused the White House to ignore a groundswell of support.
"We do believe that the SEC and the other administrative
agencies have been a major stumbling block to passing this
legislation," said Chris Calabrese, the legislative counsel for
the American Civil Liberties Union, a member of Digital 4th.
The White House did not have a comment on when or how it
would respond to the petition.
"We continue to believe the Electronic Communications
Privacy Act should be updated, and we look forward to continuing
to work with Congress on this important issue," White House
spokesman Matt Lehrich said.
In a statement Wednesday, SEC Enforcement Director Andrew
Ceresney said the legislation in its current form is not
"Civil law enforcement agencies like the SEC aren't able to
obtain the search warrants that the proposed legislation would
require," he said. "Preserving access to evidence through
(Internet service providers) for the SEC and other civil law
enforcement agencies is critical to protect the American public
Currently, government investigators can access certain
emails with a subpoena, which has a lower legal threshold than a
warrant because it does not involve a judge and is therefore
easier to obtain.
But technology companies, including Google Inc,
have refused in recent years to disclose old messages without a
warrant, as privacy advocates say digital messages should not be
treated differently than physical private communication.
The issue intensified last year when Edward Snowden, a
former contractor for the National Security Agency, leaked
classified documents that revealed the government was broadly
monitoring the telephone and Internet data of Americans.
Lawmakers, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
Patrick Leahy, sought to make it more difficult for government
investigators to obtain Americans' email information through an
update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
In 2013, the measure cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee
with bipartisan support, and a companion bill with 200
co-sponsors was introduced in the House of Representatives. But
it is unclear whether Congress will pass the bill in a busy
SEC Chair Mary Jo White previously raised concerns about
both the bill and the impact of a 2010 ruling by the Sixth
Circuit Court of Appeals that found the Justice Department's use
of a subpoena to obtain emails directly from internet service
providers violated Fourth Amendment protections against
In a letter last year, she said the ruling had a negative
effect on the commission's enforcement powers. That is because
subpoenaing individuals directly for electronic records, as
opposed to internet providers, gives people the ability to
delete or withhold crucial information.
White warned that the bill would codify the court's ruling,
and urged lawmakers to strike a better balance by allowing the
SEC to still subpoena internet providers while satisfying
certain standards comparable to those that govern criminal
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Roberta
Rampton; Editing by Karey Van Hall, Andre Grenon and Andrew Hay)