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DOJ

DOJ: We Don’t Need Warrants for E-mail, Facebook Chats, Private Tweets

· Business & Technology (rev 18:23) · No Comments
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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Image credit: CBS News)

According to recent changes in the FBI investigation manual updated last year as obtained by the ACLU, it’s possible to obtain American’s Email without a warrant. It’s also done apparently, “without running afoul of” the Fourth Amendment.

The IRS has abandoned the controversial statement claiming warrantless searching—the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI, however, have not. CNET adds:

The U.S. Attorney for Manhattan circulated internal instructions, for instance, saying a subpoena — a piece of paper signed by a prosecutor, not a judge — is sufficient to obtain nearly “all records from an ISP.” And the U.S. Attorney in Houston recently obtained the “contents of stored communications” from an unnamed Internet service provider without securing a warrant signed by a judge first.

“We really can’t have this patchwork system anymore, where agencies get to decide on an ad hoc basis how privacy-protective they’re going to be,” says Nathan Wessler, an ACLU staff attorney specializing in privacy topics who obtained the documents through open government laws. “Courts and Congress need to step in.”

The Justice Department’s disinclination to seek warrants for private files stored on the servers of companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft continued even after a federal appeals court in 2010 ruled that warrantless access to e-mail violates the Fourth Amendment. A previously unreleased version of an FBI manual, last updated two-and-a-half years after the appellate ruling, says field agents “may subpoena” e-mail records from companies “without running afoul of” the Fourth Amendment.

Several Republican and Democratic senators came out against the IRS’s claim to warrantless obtaining of private information and it’s expected that the same will happen with the DOJ.

After the IRS’s warrantless e-mail access policy came to light last month, a dozen Republican and Democratic senators rebuked the agency. Their letter (PDF) opposing warrantless searches by the IRS and signed by senators including Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said: “We believe these actions are a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

(H/T: CNET)