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Feds Shy Away From Raiding Email Without Warrant 71

Posted by timothy
from the there-would-be-these-limitations dept.
nonprofiteer writes "In December, a federal judge ruled that the 4th amendment applies to email and that the feds cannot go after it without a warrant. (We have Smilin' Bob to thank for that.) Though the federal judge's decision only applies to the four states in his jurisdiction, it looks like federal agencies are applying it nationally. An internal email written by the IRS general counsel cites the law and says that its collectors can no longer get the contents of suspected tax cheats' email by sending letters to their ISPs, though it can get non-content information, like who they email and how they pay for their accounts."
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Feds Shy Away From Raiding Email Without Warrant

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  • Thank bob for a little nudge in the right direction for online privacy.
  • Good to hear (Score:3, Insightful)

    by msobkow (48369) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @01:19PM (#37751864) Homepage Journal

    It's good to hear the US government isn't fighting the courts tooth and nail whenever there's a judgement against them. I with the same were true in Canada. The Harper government is hell bent on getting around a number of court orders on a variety of policies. They have their vision, and nothing will stop them -- not the will of the people, not the recommendations of scientists and experts, not statistics, and certainly not the objections of people in foreign nations (including the US. Thanks to the Texas conservatives for supporting the Canadian public's view that a prison state is not the way to go.)

    The Harper government thinks a majority is a dictatorship.

    I refuse to call it the Canadian government because there is nothing Canadian about the way it's treating the farmers, the stewardesses, the postal union, the medical cannabis patients, ...

    • Re:Good to hear (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mr1911 (1942298) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @01:27PM (#37751952)
      It is good to see such optimism. They are taking an "official" position they will adhere to the ruling. In practice, you will see the abuses continue. Why? Because the government is not being held accountable.

      Put the offending government employee in prison and defund/disband the agency. Then you will see them behave. With no accountability, nothing will change.

      In the end it is our fault. We get the government that we tolerate.

      There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order.
      • They will adhere to the ruling, but one thing jumps out at me. They allow "non-content" information which includes who you email. How is that not content? Paying method is obviously not content and IRS related clearly. However, allowing to see WHO I email seems a slippery slope. It seems it opens the door to guilt by association warrants. Maybe I'm wrong.
    • I fail to see how contrasting the Canadian governments reaction to court rulings with US reactions is off topic. SlashDot is international. Of course I'm going to put a Canadian spin on things.

  • Let Mark do it. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @01:19PM (#37751868) Homepage Journal

    The FBI will have to get the goods on people from Mark Zuckerberg, he's got the dirt on everyone.

  • Walter White can live in peace until the Season 5 starts.

  • PGP, GPG, etc. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @01:22PM (#37751896)

    We've had a technical solution to this for over a decade which, for some reason, has never become a standard. It's kind of sad when a legal solution beats a technical one.

    Why do we still allow our correspondence to be transmitted in plain text?

    • Because none of these are easy and free. Even really easy and cheep would be good, but really easy would require something like storing your private key on a server so it can be replaced when you delete it.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      Why do you allow your correspondence to be transmitted in plain text? No one is forcing you.
    • ?Why do we still allow our correspondence to be transmitted in plain text? Because the encryption technology currently available to the average user is pretty much useless if the NSA or other government agency takes an interest in your e-mail. This doesn't mean a user shouldn't use encryption but believing it is 100% effective is misleading.
      • by Haffner (1349071)

        Because the encryption technology currently available to the average user is pretty much useless if the NSA or other government agency takes an interest in your e-mail..

        THIS is misleading. Maximum strength PGP encryption is virtually uncrackable, first of all. Second, the laws concerning cracking encrypted files are different from the authority necessary to get emails without a court order. I fault the courts here - make the court order process easier, but never, ever let anything be done without the approval of the justice system.

        • If any agency like the CIA or NSA takes an interest in a persons e-mail communications the justice system will not be in the loop until enough evidence is found to initiate court proceedings against any suspects. When that happens the defence can challenge the legality of how the information was collected and usually stand a good chance of preventing the use of the information collected in this matter in a prosecution. Most of the current subpoenas related to the Wiki leak investigation only ask for the ro
    • And were a warrant granted to search your email, a similar order would be given compelling you to give up your private keys. Failure to do so would result in an obstruction charge, and could be considered the act of a guilty person. Encrypted e-mail only protects you from warrantless snooping, which is what the feds are shying away from.
  • Contradicting laws (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FyberOptic (813904) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @01:22PM (#37751898)

    If they want access to somebody's email without getting a warrant, all they need to do is pull the person over and search their smart phone for some bogus reason. Cause apparently that's still perfectly legal!

    • Ditch your cell phones or at least turn them off (if you can) most of the time. As Stallman said, "Cellphones are Stalin's dream." Don't make it easy for them. I have not turned my phone on for weeks and I don't miss it a bit...you young pups out there may not believe this, but in the old days we somehow survived without any cell phones. Oh the horror! Actually it was quite pleasant not being interrupted all the time....
  • Glad to see the judge did his job, and glad to see that the fed at least appears to be following his ruling.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Glad to see the judge did his job, and glad to see that the fed at least appears to be following his ruling.

      The IRS could still get transaction information from eBay or Amazon ...

      "Mr. Cowznowfski, you earned a salary of $35,378.77 for the year 2010."

      "Yes..."

      "Perhaps you could explain your purchase of this 1930 Duesenberg on eBay..."

      "Um.. it was used."

  • So if the email is older than 6 months they can request it w/o warrant? If my phone record is older than 6 months can they view that? Sounds like a step in the right direction, but a partial victory at best, i believe the feds can wait to charge somebody with a crime well past 6 months, whether the evidence is still there is another story.

    Also, WHO you call isn't accessible without a warrant either, so I don't know, seems like a partial victory.

    • When the law was written, people downloaded their email to their computers and it was deleted from the server. If the email was still on the server after 6 months, it was most likely abandoned. Webmail was essentially nonexistent. You're showing your (lack of) age.
      • by Synerg1y (2169962)

        When the law was written, people downloaded their email to their computers and it was deleted from the server

        The case happened in 2006?

        Cite your shit, or stfu.

  • "An internal email written by the IRS general counsel cites the law and says that its collectors can no longer get the contents of suspected tax cheats' email by sending letters to their ISPs, though it can get non-content information, like who they email and how they pay for their accounts."

    What if the ISP says 'not without a warrant' on this too?

    • What if the ISP says 'not without a warrant' on this too?

      I think you're being naive, if you're seriously hoping ISP would stand up and protect your rights. It's not a profitable thing to do and it is most certainly not in their interest (it cost money to fight this sort of things against the government.) With majority of the market being service by just a few major ISP, there's no incentive for them to go the extra mile to keep you as their customer.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      What if the ISP says 'not without a warrant' on this too?

      Why would they do that? Seriously, what motivation do that have to do that? All it could possibly do is create headaches for the legal department. And if the ISP says 'not without a warrant' and wins, rest assured that somebody in law enforcement would start investigating them for something-or-other. While there's probably a market for an ISP that protects its customers legally, I doubt that the market is large enough to sustain a company that has a real chance of competing with the AT&Ts of the world.

    • As in who you call and when with a telephone.

      It's like them being able to stand at the post office and read the exposed front of the envelopes containing your mail. It doesn't require a search warrant.

  • they'll just get it from the traffic cops phone-sucking machines after they pull over the perp for a non-existent traffic violation.
  • The IRS has the statutory authority to ask a judge for a warrant if they start a criminal investigation. It's not clear why they didn't do that here. The problem may be that they want to find the money, not prosecute the guy, and that's not a valid use of search warrant authority.

    An interesting point is that the consumer protection agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, don't have statutory authority to even request a search warrant.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      A warrant is more paperwork and has a higher evidence requirement than a non-warrant request, so people generally don't get warrants unless they need them. (Plus, the IRS probably investigates a lot of tax cheats, so they want to save time on them. If you're investigating the only murder your town has seen in the past couple years, you cover your ass and get warrants for everything.)

      Incidentally, with many organizations, the standard for being able to make non-warrant requests for information is that you ne

  • I thought that had been repealed something like ten years ago.
  • IRS is only conerned with items of income, and there are forms for that. My email might have reciepts, but so would the site that I have the account with.

  • "In December, a federal judge ruled"

    Um... Is it me... or is December not here yet? So either this is a REALLY OLD article or they somehow invented a time machine, went about two months into the future and came back to give us this good news? I don't get it..... Maybe it has something to do with the 2013 Delorian??? [slashdot.org]

  • Our emails have been secretly monitored for quite some time. "Shying away" from such actions is merely on paper and PR. If you believe otherwise, you're a fool.
  • Where to start?

    The article says the R.O. in this case "asked" the ISP for the information. That can be done a number of ways. The most informal is to, you know, ask.

    If an R.O. wants to find out about you and you live in an apartment complex, they'll ask the complex management for a look at your application. 20 years ago, the management would hand it over. Nowadays, in the aftermath of the Revenue Reconciliation Act of 1998 that, in many ways, neutered R.Os, nobody complies with simple requests.

    If a reco

  • Yeah, like the Subject, To: and From: of all email, and every URL they load, including any GET form parms. This information is aggregated, burned to a CD, and handed to an FBI agent, so there is no electronic record of the transfer.

    ObDisclaimer: AFAIK I am not being monitored by the FBI, but who knows? I'm an outspoken privacy and freedom advocate and I have had a job which required an FBI background check. I do, however, know someone who is responsible for handling the FBI-required monitoring of one or mor

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