US Senate Judiciary Committee 2013 Agenda Includes Privacy, Press Freedom

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The United States Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013 will address topical issues of gun violence and immigration, but will also take up issues of citizens’ civil liberties in light of ever-increasing security measures, and a push for government transparency, freedom of the press, digital rights, access to books for the visually impaired, and incentives for innovation.

The committee agenda was announced by Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, in this speech yesterday.

The committee includes oversight of intellectual property rights issues, and Leahy for example was the chief proponent of last year’s reform of US patent law.

Leahy raised particular concern over the rapid increase in use of drone technology, which he said “could pose a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans.”

“It is another example of a fast-changing policy area on which we need to focus to make sure that modern technology is not used to erode Americans’ right to privacy, and this will be the subject of hearings this Congress,” he said.

“We make a tragic mistake thinking that merely giving up more and more of our privacy will make us safer,” Leahy added. “It will not. Security and liberty are both essential in a free society, and we cannot forsake one for the other.”

Leahy also named “the public’s right to know” as a top agenda item, saying, “I will continue to fight for transparency that keeps the government accountable to the people.”

“I have serious concerns about the press being shut out,” he said. “While I oppose the disclosure of properly classified government information, I will also work to make sure that legislative efforts to prevent classified leaks does not infringe upon our fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press.”

In addition, he said he will “keep pushing to update our privacy laws to address emerging technology and the Internet, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and cybersecurity laws.”

Other initiatives are to “reauthorize the satellite TV license, make books accessible to those with visual disabilities, and create incentives for innovation.”

Details on these initiatives will be forthcoming.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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