Delete Your Old Emails or Else the Government Can Read Them

Ugh. Yes, really:

IRS documents released Wednesday suggest that the tax collection agency believes it can read American citizens’ emails without a warrant.

The files were released to the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act request. The organization is working to determine just how broadly federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI or the IRS’ Criminal Tax Division interpret their authority to snoop through inboxes.

The IRS apparently interprets that authority very broadly, the documents show: as long as you’ve stored your email in a cloud service like Google Mail, and as long as those emails haven’t been deleted after a few months, the agency thinks it doesn’t need a warrant to read them.

The idea of IRS agents poking through your email account might sound at the very least creepy, and maybe unconstitutional. But the IRS does have a legal leg to stand on: the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 allows government agencies to in many cases obtain emails older than 180 days without a warrant.

(h/t Colleen Kirby)
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  • Dan_in_DE

    What concerns me is the implication that Google would give the government access to my emails without putting up a fight, or so much as notifying me..

  • muselet

    Every agency interprets laws and regulations to its advantage. The IRS is no exception, and when Congress passes dumb laws filled with lots of ambiguities (and, in this specific case, demonstrating a collective lack of understanding of the technology being used), this is what we can all expect.

    A few email providers say they demand warrants from any law-enforcement agency before allowing access to a user’s stored email; if so, good for them. That principled position will until the Supreme Court gets a chance to declare that email is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

    Encryption is looking more and more like a reasonable action, even for innocuous communication.

    –alopecia

  • D_C_Wilson

    Anyone who puts anything incriminating in an email is pretty stupid to begin with. As those republicans who forward those hilarious but totally not racist emails about President and Michelle Obama discovered, anyone can forward them to anyone else.

    Once it’s in an email, you have no control over where it goes.