"Nobody questions the fact that if a police agency wants to go into your home, open your files, papers and read through them, they're going to have to have a search warrant. I question the willingness to have a different view when they can do it from a hundred miles away with a keystroke," he added.
ECPA reform proposals have come under fire from critics who warn against provisions they say would hinder the ability of law enforcement authorities to conduct effective investigations.
Leahy has acknowledged some of those concerns in his legislation, allowing that government authorities should be able to seek permission from a court to delay notifying a suspect about a warrant in a sensitive investigation for up to six months. But the bedrock principal of the reform effort--that access to electronic communications must be obtained through a warrant issued by a judge--remains controversial.
"It is going to be a fight, but I think people are realizing they don't have to give up their ability to use the Internet and everything else while at the same time guarding their freedom," Leahy said. "Those are broad-brush answers, I realize, but we are going to bring it back this year and it's also one of the things that helped my decision to stay as chair of the Judiciary Committee."
Leahy did not indicate when he plans to bring ECPA reform back to the committee's agenda, though he said that comprehensive immigration reform will be among the first issues the panel considers, with hearings planned for next month.
The Obama administration has also signaled that it plans to push for immigration reform in the president's second term, and any overhaul would likely include efforts to expand access to high-skilled, foreign-born workers, a long-standing priority of the technology industry writ large.
Judiciary Committee's Crowded Agenda
Leahy identified a number of other issues on his crowded policy agenda for the Judiciary Committee, beginning with a hearing this month on gun violence, as well as benefits for first responders, oversight of the administration's counter-terrorism programs and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Notably absent from the technology agenda that Leahy described was any mention of legislation to strengthen protection of copyrights and other intellectual property. In the last Congress, Leahy had backed the Protect IP Act (PIPA), a bill aimed at curbing online copyright infringement.