AirTalk for April 11, 2013

IRS reading emails without search warrants

A woman looks at her email on a computer

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looks at her email on a computer screen. The IRS can read emails without a warrant, but should that be legal?

It's tax time and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is offering another reason to stay honest in your tax returns. Internal IRS documents show the agency can obtain your private emails without a search warrant if the emails are older than 180 days. The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, that govern how IRS investigators operate state “the Fourth Amendment does not protect communications held in electronic storage, such as email messages stored on a server.”

The IRS is using a 1986 law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), to get around Fourth Amendment restrictions. Currently, new Senate legislation aims to update the ECPA, but until then, is the IRS within their rights? Is there no expectation of privacy for emails sitting around on a server for months?

Guest:  
Nathan Wessler, Staff Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union


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