Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) has demanded that the FBI and other Federal agencies obtain a warrant to read private emails. He said that Americans’ “right to be free from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ applies regardless of whether it involves a letter stored in a desk or an email stored online.”
He was responding to a CNET report based on an ACLU investigation, which revealed that the Department of Justice does not believe it needs a warrant to read private chats or discussions at Facebook, Twitter, etc., and sometimes takes the position that email is fair game, as well. Last month the IRS maintained it did not need a warrant to read emails, but has now backed off that position.
Security agencies often argue that an email or other electronic communication is more like a postcard than a letter. If a government official saw a postcard on a counter, he wouldn’t need a warrant to read it since it and its text are out in the open.
Most people, however, don’t think of their email or private Twitter and other electronic communications as public, and Congressional legislation is needed to catch the 4th amendment up to the 21st century:
“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.”
Me, I think electronic communication is obviously “papers” and “effects.” As long-time readers know, I have special reason to be concerned about secret government surveillance, which can easily turn into blackmail and dirty tricks, as well.