Why the IRS doesn't need a warrant
to read your emailApparently 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 IRS
doesn't have the form with the Fourth Amendment on it.LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online):
The conclusion of a crack team of IRS lawyers is that if you are the subject of
an IRS criminal investigation, your private communications are subject to search
without a warrant.
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
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.
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outdated 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which like many laws, does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.