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U.S. Senator: FLEOA warns Senate Committee

U.S. Senator: FLEOA warns Senate Committee to remember civil rights of victims, not just criminals.

On Wednesday, September 16, 2015, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) read an excerpt from a letter FLEOA sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, then entered into the official record, warning the committee not to forget about the civil rights and privacy of the innocent and victims of crime rather than just focusing on the rights of criminals. The letter was in response to a list of civil rights experts who testified at the hearing regarding potential reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). FLEOA maintains a strong leadership role in ECPA discussions, and the lack of law enforcement witnesses drew a strong reaction from FLEOA leadership. Law enforcement relies on many tools under provided under ECPA to collect evidence and prosecute criminals and terrorists, and FLEOA is leading the fight to retain those authorities. Read the complete letter and read the excerpt from Senator Sessions below.

 

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Statement for the Record submitted by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the hearing titled, "Reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act,” Wednesday,September 16, 2015.

 

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Leahy, and Members of the Committee:

 

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) represents more than

26,000 federal law enforcement officers from 65 agencies, each sworn to enforce the law and protect civil rights granted under the U.S. Constitution. As such,we are the true practitioners and resident experts regarding the importance of balancing investigative authorities under the law with the resolute duty to protect the civil rights of all individuals.For this reason, FLEOA prides itself as a leader in the national discussion regarding the modernization of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), and we appreciate the opportunity to submit this statement for the record.

 

As a matter of law and Constitutional rights, before collecting information for use as evidence of a violation of any law, the investigating authority before acting must meet certain standards and burdens prescribed by legal demands. In the context of electronic information collection, such as emails and other electronic correspondence, the litmus test for proceeding with a collection effort is already set at a higher burden than the law requires in an effort to ensure that the civil rights and privacy of individuals remains preserved.

 

FLEOA members, in their professional capacity as the practitioners of law enforcement and civil rights protections, supports the current high level of burden placed upon the government before it can act against an individual or civil entity. While affirming to civil rights and personal privacy, the current system of checks and balances regarding electronic information collection is unknown and unappreciated

by the average person.This creates unwarranted fear and mistrust when headlines and media stories misleadingly charge the government with the abuse of power made possible through outdated laws that fail to recognize 21st Century life.

 

While current law may not always address all aspects of modern life, the foundational components of civil rights and liberties do not change, and federal law enforcement continues to recognize and protect these principles. Even so, with the increasing complexity of communications technology, law enforcement struggles to compete with the speed of change.There is great concern within the law enforcement community that blanket requirements under the law that attempt to encapsulate all conditions and technology from which information is collected will unnecessarily add to this struggle, especially under exigent situations that indicate a threat to life and safety.

Law enforcement relies on electronic information to generate leads, identify suspects,exonerate the innocent and obtain justice for the victims of crimes who often suffer violations of their civil rights and privacy by criminals and terrorists.It is for this reason that a balance between enforcement authorities and civil rights and privacy must exist. The over-consideration of one leads to a violation of the other.Federal law enforcement officers seek to protect both equally.

 

FLEOA encourages the Committee to continue gathering the perspectives of law enforcement practitioners with a focus on maintaining the fragile balance between enforcement authority and civil rights and privacy without elevating one over the other. When the scale tips either way, it is the civil rights and privacy of the innocent or the victim that ultimately suffers the most.

Respectfully submitted,

Steve Lenkart
Executive Director
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Excerpt from the Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing titled, "Reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act,” on Wednesday, September 16, 2015.

 

Senator SESSIONS:

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I would like comment and introduce the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association letter which notes that they -- law enforcement -- rely on electronic information quote, "To generate leads, identify suspects, exonerate the innocent and obtain justice for the victims of crime are often suffer violations of their civil rights and privacy by criminals and terrorist," close quote.

So, I would offer that and note that many others are sharing the same comments including the FBI Agents Association, Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriff's Association, the National District Attorney's Association and the Major Cities Chiefs Association to name a few.