IRS Documents Citizens Have "No Privacy Expectation" With Email
April 11, 2013 3:01 PM
Circuit court says search is unconstitutional, but IRS ignores that ruling
It's tax time so the
U.S. Internal Revenue Service
(IRS) is likely in the minds (and fears) of many. The
IRS is also on the mind
American Civil Liberties Union
I. Big Brother is Watching Your Email
The ACLU is currently fighting a battle with the IRS over
warrantless email snooping
. The IRS is reportedly regularly going to internet service providers and demanding their customers’ older emails -- and it's often getting the information.
The debate starts with the
of the U.S.'s most important governing document, the Constitution, which states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
[Image Source: EL Civics]
That's seemingly an open and shut statement -- the police can't investigate a citizen without a warrant. But in recent years the federal government -- including the IRS --
has been steadily
at due process
The IRS for much of last decade argued email was not Constitutionally protected.
[Image Source: CNN]
Back in 2009, the IRS was operating under the premise that there were no protections against email searches. That protocol was affirmed by the “
Search Warrant Handbook
” from the IRS Criminal Tax Division’s Office of Chief Counsel, a document that the ACLU obtained via a Freedom of Information Action (FOIA) of 1966 (
II. A Policy of Warrantless Surveillance
The 2009 IRS handbook suggests "the Fourth Amendment does not protect communications held in electronic storage, such as email messages stored on a server, because internet users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications."
A second document -- a 2010, a
by the IRS Office of Chief Counsel -- repeats this, stating that citizens have "no privacy expectation" when it comes to email and commenting, "[The] 4th Amendment Does Not Protect Emails Stored on Server."
Thus the IRS practiced a haphazard process of obtaining emails, only occasionally backing its demands with warrants (perhaps when it met with resistance from service firms).
The IRS claimed the Fourth Amendment didn't apply to email. [Image Source: Bloomberg]
The IRS policy was only slightly worse than the general government policy. Back in 2009, the general federal investigative policy -- based on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) (
) -- was that unopened emails less than 180 days old required a warrant, but emails
than 180 days, or opened emails did not require a warrant for federal agents to obtain.
Of course the Fourth Amendment seemingly gave a far more explicit and stringent requirement, regardless of the shortcomings of the ECPA, so it seemed inevitable that the issue would be put to the test. And it was.
III. Sixth Circuit Ruling Deals a Blow to Practice, But IRS Resists Change
In 2010, the
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
decided a critical case on the topic of email privacy --
United States v. Warshak
In that case the Circuit Court -- which sets precedent for Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee -- decided that federal agents must obtain a warrant to obtain
email regardless of the age or open status, due to the Fourth Amendment protections.
The big questions after the Sixth Circuit decision was when it would be appealed and whether federal investigative agencies would comply with it until the issue was settled at the Supreme Court level. The ACLU requested information from the IRS, the
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Department of Justice.
The IRS was the first to respond back. And its
made it clear that it was not necessarily abiding by the Sixth Circuit ruling and may
be snooping on email. The IRS instead switched to the previous precedent -- the 180 day ECPA protocol.
The IRS's manual still suggests warrantless email grabs are okay, despite a Federal Circuit Court ruling that they are unconstitutional. [Image Source: Something Finance]
reveal IRS legal counsels initially denied having heard of the Sixth Circuit opinion, and argued that the 180-day rule is current and universal. But in 2011 they advised that it "would not be sensible" to read emails without warrant. The agency lawyers warned that ISPs could fight the demands, citing the Sixth Circuit ruling, and that while the agency was confident it could win the information obtained would be "stale" by then.
However, the advisory was never made mandatory, so presumably some warrantless data requests occurred. Such a possibility is reinforced by the fact that this year's Internal Revenue Manual, available on the
still says that no warrant is required for emails older that 180 days old -- making no reference of the Sixth Circuit ruling or the internal discussion.
"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook
U.S Gov't: "Give Us Your Data, It's For Security"; Google: "Buzz Off!"
April 5, 2013, 3:33 PM
Obama's DOJ Tries to Sneak Around Supreme Court GPS Tracking Ruling, ACLU Upset
January 17, 2013, 2:08 PM
Too Large to Manage? 1.3M Cell Phone Snooping Demands Filed in 2011
July 9, 2012, 2:23 PM
Report: Obama Administration to Spy on Citizens Online to Fight "Terror"
September 27, 2010, 2:10 PM
Nosy IRS Employees Charged With Snooping on Tax Returns
May 14, 2008, 9:50 AM
Science & Environment
February 20, 2017, 6:37 AM
The USA’s newest weather satellite sends first photos.
January 24, 2017, 6:41 AM
Netflix took a decision to invest in original content
January 19, 2017, 7:00 AM
Amazon Airborne Fulfillment Center – Your Merchandise Drop-Shipped from the Clouds
December 29, 2016, 5:00 AM
Amazon is experimenting with a new kind of grocery stores, Amazon Go
December 8, 2016, 5:00 AM
Google has developed Deep Learning Algorithm to detect Diabetic Eye Disease
December 4, 2016, 5:00 AM
Most Popular Articles
Samsung Galaxy S8, Rumored Launch Date!
March 18, 2017, 6:45 AM
Lenovo MIIX 510 – Excellent 2-In-One Tablet with Unique Watchband Hinge
March 17, 2017, 7:50 AM
Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming G1 – Intel Thunderbolt 3 Certified Motherboard
March 9, 2017, 6:25 AM
Lenovo ThinkPad T460 - Ultra-Thin and Feather-light
March 3, 2017, 6:00 AM
Nokia has ditched this camera technology in its new smartphones
March 7, 2017, 8:45 AM
Latest Blog Posts
Apple buys an automation app called Workflow. The deal was completed today and brings the app along with its developers.
Mar 23, 2017, 7:35 AM
Apple Announces new color for iPhones and iPads
Mar 22, 2017, 7:45 AM
Instagram: You Can Now Save Live Videos For Later
Mar 21, 2017, 7:49 AM
Samsung Galaxy S8 to Get New Color Scheme
Mar 20, 2017, 7:45 AM
What else to worry about?
Mar 17, 2017, 6:45 AM
Icon of the Day: Intel/ NVIDIA or Mobileye
Mar 16, 2017, 6:15 AM
JUST IN - Twitter Hijacked : High-Profile Account Accesses
Mar 15, 2017, 7:07 AM
Mar 14, 2017, 7:30 AM
News and Tips
Mar 13, 2017, 6:30 AM
iPhone 8 – May Not Get Curved Screen
Mar 11, 2017, 8:00 AM
California paves way to self-driving car tests without humans
Mar 11, 2017, 7:18 AM
Smart Machines V hackers
Mar 10, 2017, 7:00 AM
Uber Can Resume Autonomous Car Testing in California
Mar 9, 2017, 6:50 AM
Mar 8, 2017, 7:09 AM
Mar 7, 2017, 8:45 AM
World news 3-6
Mar 6, 2017, 5:40 AM
Mar 4, 2017, 7:40 AM
Mixed News of the Day
Mar 4, 2017, 6:32 AM
Jaguar Land Rover invests in ride-sharing
Mar 3, 2017, 7:00 AM
Mixed News of The World:
Mar 2, 2017, 7:02 AM
World New 3-1
Mar 1, 2017, 6:30 AM
Gaming News of The Day
Feb 28, 2017, 6:56 AM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2017 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information