Your email is subject to warrantless searches.–PC Pitstop
Feds Can Read Your Email
by Bob Rankin
If you need some motivation to catch up on reading your email, consider this: the U.S. federal government can read any unopened email you’ve left on an email provider’s server without obtaining a search warrant. The full story is even more disturbing, but there’s something you can do about it. Read on…
Privacy Protection Stalled In Congress
Even if you’ve opened an email, the feds don’t need a warrant to read it if it’s been stored on a third party’s server for more than six months (180 days). Email you’ve sent is also subject to warrantless searches.
Is this a new law passed by Congress that allows snooping into your email privacy? Actually, no. It’s been the law of the land for almost 30 years. Lawmakers are trying to change that, but there’s a roadblock. More on that later…
You can thank the antiquated Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 for this gaping loophole in privacy protection. Written in the age of dialup modems and PCs that supported a maximum of 640 KB of RAM, the ECPA was watered down by law enforcement lobbyists and a Congress that had little clue what it was doing with this new-fangled Intertube thingie.
Law enforcement argued that unopened messages stored on a third-party server were still “in transit” and not yet the recipient’s property, therefore no warrant was required to search them. Messages left undeleted for more than six months were considered “abandoned property” like trash put out on the curb; the recipient had relinquished ownership so the 4th Amendment did not apply.
The ECPA applies to all “electronic communications,” not just email. Facebook posts and private messages; text messages; Twitter posts and direct (private, one-to-one) messages; blog posts marked “unpublished;” and just about anything you put online and thought was private.
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