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All Da King's Men

Big Brother, Part II: Reading Your E-Mail

By David King Published: April 11, 2013

From The Hill:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has claimed that agents do not need warrants to read people's emails, text messages and other private electronic communications, according to internal agency documents.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request, released the information on Wednesday.

In a 2009 handbook, the IRS said the Fourth Amendment does not protect emails because Internet users "do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications." A 2010 presentation by the IRS Office of General Counsel reiterated the policy.

Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, government officials only need a subpoena, issued without a judge's approval, to read emails that have been opened or that are more than 180 days old.


The federal government says it can read our e-mails. The government says we have no "reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications". Hmmm. If that is true, then I guess it would be okay for me to hack into the computer system of the IRS and read the e-mails of it's agents. Or maybe I'll read the e-mails of Congress and the White House. How many years do you suppose I'd spend in the federal pen if I did such a thing ? I'm fairly certain that THEY have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Why aren't we granted the same consideration ?

This story says the ECPA law, FROM 1986, requires government officials to get a subpoena issued without a judge's approval, in order to read your e-mail. First of all, did e-mail even exist in 1986 ? I suppose it did in a technical sense, but commercial internet e-mail as we know it today didn't begin until a few years later. At best, the 1986 law is outdated. Secondly, according to the ECPA, a subpoena has replaced the search warrant when it comes to government e-mail reading. My understanding of subpoenas (admittedly limited) is that a subpoena can demand an individual produce certain  information to the court, but in this case it allows the government to "swoop down" (quoting VP Biden from yesterday's post) and grab the information it wants. It sounds like the government is on very shaky legal ground here.

In the 2010 case of United States v. Warshak, a federal appeals court ruled that there IS a reasonable expectation of privacy with e-mails. Despite the ruling, the IRS didn't change it's policy, except where it was expressly FORCED to change it:

In an October 2011 memo obtained by the ACLU, an IRS attorney explained that the Warshak decision only applies in the Sixth Circuit, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

This is why we the people MUST control the government. The government WILL abuse it's authority if we allow it.

I'm forced to repeat my summation from yesterday's post. It seems that privacy and the Fourth Amendment are becoming merely quaint notions from the past. Big Brother is watching. Several sections of our Constitution are being nullified or subverted, but the many ways in which this is true is beyond the scope of this post. What shocks me is, many people stand idly by and shrug their shoulders as it happens, as if these matters are unimportant. To me, that is a sign of a people who take freedom for granted, a terrible mistake. Benjamin Franklin once said, "people willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both". Ben Franklin was a very wise man.



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