Why the IRS doesn't need a warrant to read your email
The IRS doesn't have the form with your Fourth Amendment rights on it
Apparently the Fourth Amendment does not apply to the Internal Revenue Service, according to newly disclosed documents prepared by lawyers working for the IRS. The lawyers say that Americans have "generally no privacy" in their email, Facebook, Twitter, and other online communications.
The American Civil Liberties Union managed to obtain a 2009 copy of the IRS Search Warrant Handbook and it says, "emails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy and thus their Fourth Amendment protection once they have been sent from an individual's computer."
The IRS continues to hold this position even though judges have stated otherwise. A 2010 case, U.S. v. Warshak, concluded that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their email. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and others have also taken the same position.
Apparently, the IRS never got the memo.
Instead, the IRS appears to be following old guidelines that were formed in the mid 80s, before content was stored in the cloud. Those rules have allowed law enforcement and others to obtain private communications less than 180 days old without a warrant or even probable cause. However, in the Warshak, the court ruled that technology has changed so much since then that the old law was obsolete.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, "Since the advent of e-mail, the telephone call and the letter have waned in importance, and an explosion of Internet-based communication has taken place. People are now able to send sensitive and intimate information, instantaneously, to friends, family, and colleagues half a world away... By obtaining access to someone's e-mail, government agents gain the ability to peer deeply into his activities."
Congress has been asked to update the outdated 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which like many laws, does the opposite of what its name suggests claims and serves to diminish privacy.
As legislators introduced bills last month in both the House and Senate to add a warrant requirement for emails, the Justice Department stated they would not oppose the change. This means that at some point, in the near future, if the bills become law, law enforcement, including the IRS will need a warrant to read your emails.
For now, don't get into trouble with the IRS and talk about it via email. Their lawyers still believe the Fourth Amendment has an asterisk by it just for IRS investigations.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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