The ACLU has obtained internal IRS documents that say Americans enjoy "generally no privacy" in their e-mail messages, Facebook chats, and other electronic communications.

Declan McCullagh
April 10, 2013 8:18 AM PDT 
The IRS continued to insist on warrantless e-mail access, internal documents obtained by the ACLU show, even after a federal appeals court said the Fourth Amendment applied.

The IRS continued to insist on warrantless e-mail access, internal documents obtained by the ACLU show, even after a federal appeals court said the Fourth Amendment applied.

(Credit: Getty Images)

The Internal Revenue Service doesn't believe it needs a search warrant to read your e-mail.

Newly disclosed documents prepared by IRS lawyers says that Americans enjoy "generally no privacy" in their e-mail, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and similar online communications -- meaning that they can be perused without obtaining a search warrant signed by a judge.

That places the IRS at odds with a growing sentiment among many judges and legislators who believe that Americans' e-mail messages should be protected from warrantless search and seizure. They say e-mail should be protected by the same Fourth Amendment privacy standards that require search warrants for hard drives in someone's home, or a physical letter in a filing cabinet.

An IRS 2009 Search Warrant Handbook obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union argues that "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 handbook was prepared by the Office of Chief Counsel for the Criminal Tax Division and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney at the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said in a blog post that the IRS's view of privacy rights violates the Fourth Amendment:

Let's hope you never end up on the wrong end of an IRS criminal tax investigation. But if you do, you should be able to trust that the IRS will obey the Fourth Amendment when it seeks the contents of your private emails. Until now, that hasn't been the case. The IRS should let the American public know whether it obtains warrants across the board when accessing people's email. And even more important, the IRS should formally amend its policies to require its agents to obtain warrants when seeking the contents of emails, without regard to their age.

The IRS continued to take the same position, the documents indicate, even after a federal appeals court ruled in the 2010 case U.S. v. Warshak that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their e-mail. A few e-mail providers, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, but not all, have taken the position that Warshak mandates warrants for e-mail.

The IRS did not immediately respond to a request from CNET asking whether it is the agency's position that a search warrant is required for e-mail and similar communications.

Before the Warshak decision, the general rule since 1986 had been that police could obtain Americans' e-mail messages that were more than 180 days old with an administrative subpoena or what's known as a 2703(d) order, both of which lack a warrant's probable cause requirement.

The rule was adopted in the era of telephone modems, BBSs, and UUCP links, long before gigabytes of e-mail stored in the cloud was ever envisioned. Since then, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Warshak, technology had changed dramatically: "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."

A March 2011 update to the IRS manual, published four months after the Warshak decision, says that nothing has changed and that "investigators can obtain everything in an account except for unopened e-mail or voice mail stored with a provider for 180 days or less" without a warrant. An October 2011 memorandum (PDF) from IRS senior counsel William Spatz took a similar position.

A phalanx of companies, including Amazon, Apple, AT&T, eBay, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Twitter, as well as liberal, conservative, and libertarian advocacy groups, have asked Congress to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act to make it clear that law enforcement needs warrants to access private communications and the locations of mobile devices.

In November, a Senate panel approved the e-mail warrant requirement, and last month Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose district includes the heart of Silicon Valley, introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives. The Justice Department indicated last month it will drop its opposition to an e-mail warrant requirement.

Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

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Folks  PFA,  I've  never  trusted  the  IRS,  My  grandmother  was  the  one  that  said,  Ron  you  begin  working  you  must  do  your  taxes~~But  you  don't  want  to  know  how  the  IRS  spends  your  money,  they  also  want  your  Privacy  and  who  your  relatives  are..!!   Think  about  the  above  message  in  detail.!!

we the people,who are the real government.ovomit/satan and his treasonous adminstration,all of them are using unconstitituinal treasonous actions against we the people,were have you people been,they have been doing unconstitituional illegal acts,for a long time,from the ineligible treasonous traitor ovomit to his whole unconstitituional adminstration.i again call on wayne/nra/amac/john birch society/all freedom loving,god fearing american veternas/citizens.and donalld thrump you stated ovomit/satan in revolution donald an evolution of we the people,there are 535 unamerican traitors in ovomit and his lawless,useless,treasonous adminstration,and they are dictating unconstitituional laws,against we the people.the longer we allow this treason to continue,the longer these 535 traitors will keep destroying america,time to communicate/prepare/focus/plan/refine plan,and with all the legal american gun owners,there are millions of legal americans.come together under one giant freedom umbrella.god bless sheriff joe and cold case posse.dr oily taitz,chuck norris,frank serpico,and all legal american veternas/citizens.yea thou iw alk in the valley of the shadow of death,i will fear no evil/ovomit

Remember, Obozo appointed a lot of people, and the IRS has been expanding for several years.  Why is it, when it is in the records, and the historical records of the shift in political beliefs that this can't be recognised for what it is.  The Communist manisfesto has been pushed since the early 1900s, and got out of 1st gear in the '60s.  The corner stone of the collasp of our financial deck of cards was initiated in LBJs watch.  The Great Society.  The word Society is the kicker.  This country was form on the basic function of individual effort, not the collective.  We were maeching in the same direction, not being draged

down the slope.  Just pushed ever so slowly.  The part that gets me is that the damage is being accomplished by those who took a sacred oath to uphold the basic documents of this republic, and their word is nothing but bovine waste. 




Why does this not surprise me?  We live in a lawless country where the government routinely tramples on the Constitution,  we have crooks for judges and none of our politicians are worth a nickel (well, except for a handful).



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