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Communications Government Privacy United States Your Rights Online

IRS Can Read Your Email Without Warrant 332

kodiaktau writes "The ACLU has issued a FOIA request to determine whether the IRS gets warrants before reading taxpayers' email. The request is based on the antiquated Electronic Communication Protection Act — federal agencies can and do request and read email that is over 180 days old. The IRS response can be found at the ACLU's website. The IRS asserts that it can and will continue to make warrantless requests to ISPs to track down tax evasion. Quoting: 'The documents the ACLU obtained make clear that, before Warshak, it was the policy of the IRS to read people’s email without getting a warrant. Not only that, but the IRS believed that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to email at all. A 2009 "Search Warrant Handbook" from the IRS Criminal Tax Division’s Office of Chief Counsel baldly asserts that "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." Again in 2010, a presentation by the IRS Office of Chief Counsel asserts that the "4th Amendment Does Not Protect Emails Stored on Server" and there is "No Privacy Expectation" in those emails.'"
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IRS Can Read Your Email Without Warrant

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  • No expectation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:39PM (#43415167) Journal

    I certainly expect my email to be private. Okay, I expect it SHOULD be private. But the bottom line is if you are storing your data on other people's equipment, you have no guarantee of anything.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:40PM (#43415177)

    We don't have reasonable expectation of privacy to our electronic communications, but apparently the govt does. On top of that we pay for it.

  • IRS needs to go (Score:5, Insightful)

    by emho24 ( 2531820 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:42PM (#43415191)
    The US tax code needs a massive overhaul and simplification, and the IRS simply needs to be dismantled.

    Maybe I should send that as an email so the IRS will read it.
  • Residence? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:51PM (#43415293) Homepage Journal



    Bug out now, Mr. and Mrs. America. Before they lock the gate.

    Or? You didn't think all that TSA and "no fly list" was to keep people out, did you?

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:52PM (#43415313) Homepage Journal

    If the IRS can read email without a warrant, then it should be EASY to convict nearly every overpaid CEO in the USA who hides their money via creative accounting and tax dodges. Why have there been no convictions then for the 2008 Economic Crash where the fatcat bankers stole trillions and then got free billions to cover their losses? Surely that money can be traced and found and certain wall street types convicted if the IRS is reading *their* emails.

    Oh, but they aren't -- because those people own the government. Because those people are "too big to fail". Because those people have friends in high places and lots of lawyers to defend them. They aren't easy targets, even though they are big targets.

    No no, prosecutors want easy convictions from people with no means to defend themselves, using the same tactics as high school bullies -- pick on the weak.

    The IRS reading your mail? Pfft. It's to keep the proles in line. The elite have their own laws and their own justice that flows from power. The rest of us just try to survive under the heel of their boot.

  • Re:No expectation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:52PM (#43415321) Journal

    I agree. The difference is in the meaning of "expect". The IRS is using it in a legal sense, and they are wrong here. From a practical sense, one should not expect email to be confidential. From a legal aspect we should have that expectation.

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:57PM (#43415383) Journal

    So why do we need passwords to log in then? And let's stop calling it email, and call it e-postcards..

  • by TerraFrost ( 611855 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @04:04PM (#43415445)
    The Sarah Palin email hacker [wikipedia.org] should have used that line! "Mrs. Palin has no privacy expectation". Might have saved him from his misdemeanor conviction of "unauthorized access to a computer".
  • So wrong. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thruen ( 753567 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @04:06PM (#43415473)
    Have you ever rented a home? By your logic, you have no expectation of privacy in a rented property or hotel room. You might be interested to know that it's already well established that (outside of television) your landlord can't even consent to a police search of your property, unless they meet the normal requirements for such consent such as if they also live there. Your email being stored on a server is like that, you're renting the space from the server owner, according to the terms they set forth when you signed up for the account. Unless those terms say they can go through your email or grant permission for others to go through your email, this is still illegal. I'll admit, laws regarding the physical world and the internet don't line up 1:1, but suggesting that there should be no privacy at all on the internet because of the way the internet works is a bit nuts.
  • Factually, *EVERYBODY* has something to hide... not because they are necessarily doing anything wrong, but because some things are simply private.

    To anyone who would say that they agree with such a notion, consider asking them why ordinary people wear clothes daily. Clothes, after all, cover up one's body, and therefore hide it from view. If the only reason to hide something is because something is wrong, is someone who is wearing clothes necessarily saying that there is something necessarily wrong with their body?

    Unless the person you are talking to is a nudist who also happens to firmly believes that other people should openly practice nudity as well (sort of like an evangelical nudist, I guess), or else thinks for some reason that everybody *does* have something wrong with their body, they should realize the inherent flaw in their previously held assumption once this is pointed out to them.

  • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @04:30PM (#43415763)

    I have no expectation of privacy at all. If I want something held private I'll be sure not to put it in a damn e-mail. Not just the government but all kinds of people can look at e-mail, it's less secure than frigging snail mail. Face it, you must be crazy to mention criminal shit in an e-mail or on any kind of phone. There are ways of getting secure messages around but those aren't included.

  • Re:No expectation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @04:45PM (#43415929)

    "Are they? I haven't heard a good argument on why anyone should expect an email to be private. It's read and scanned by countless systems just to get it to its destination."

    No, it isn't.

    The header is, but that's what the header is for. No intermediate system (or email server, for that matter) has any reason to read or "scan" anything in the body of the email. There just isn't any valid technical reason to do that.

    I should point out that as far as "header" information is concerned (i.e., signalling required for source-destination communications), telephone lines are absolutely no different. There is source and destination information that is perfectly analogous to email headers, and then there is the "body" of the message: the actual voice content.

    Yet people DO expect phone conversations to be private. So explain to me why there should be any difference.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @04:46PM (#43415951)

    "obviously you have nothing to hide..."

    Have you ever needed to pee or poop when you were in a group of people? Did you just do it on the spot or what?

  • Re:No expectation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @04:49PM (#43415989)

    " There's quite a bit of case law that you don't have a legal expectation of privacy with regards to information revealed to a third party, e.g. emails stored on a web mail provider's server."

    But there is no reason that emails on a server should be "revealed" to that party. Tell me: if you gave someone a sealed envelope and asked them to not read the contents -- even though there is absolutely nothing stopping them from tearing open the envelope and reading it -- does that constitute "revealing" the information?

    An ISP has to take positive, affirmative steps to read an email that is stored on their server. Just as someone working for a phone company has to take positive, affirmative steps to access the content of a phone conversation, or your voice mail.

    And voice mail, in particular, is comparable. Why should voice mails be private, yet emails not? Explain please.

  • Re:No expectation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @04:55PM (#43416081)

    "With electronic communication that envelope is called encryption."

    Definitely not.

    For all practical purposes, that envelope is called SMTP.

    Let's get this perfectly straight: there is NO reason that any intermediate relay OR your ISP should have default access to your email. In order to do so, they have to take positive action to access it... akin to opening an envelope.

    Taking the concept of "envelope" as far as encryption is just wrong. SMTP and secure storage should be your envelope. Encryption is more like transporting your papers in a portable safe. Not the same thing at all.

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @05:16PM (#43416319)
    It seems that a key tenet of authoritarianism is the assumption that privacy is not legitimate.

    Without the information provided by putting that into practice, it would be much more difficult to micromanage daily life. An income tax in particular is a control freak's wet dream: it provides both carrots and sticks that can be used to manipulate behavior. Unlike impersonal excise taxes or sales taxes, where the only relevant information is a dollar amount, an income tax inherently requires getting to know the mundane details of a person's life. You have to know who they are, what they do, what they've been up to lately, and you need invasive powers to make sure they aren't cheating or otherwise lying to you.

    There is a reason why the Constitution had to be amended to allow for an income tax. As far as I know, that reason wasn't because the Founding Fathers never heard of such a concept.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @07:04PM (#43417281)

    Wow... I'm genuinely curious why one of earliest users on Slashdot is trolling.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead