The Obama administration has dropped its insistence that police should be able to warrantlessly peruse Americans' e-mail correspondence.
But at the same time, the Justice Department is advancing new proposals that would expand government surveillance powers over e-mail messages, Twitter direct messages, and Facebook direct messages in other ways...
Elana Tyrangiel, a former White House lawyer who's now an acting assistant attorney general, will announce the department's new policy positions at a congressional hearing that's scheduled to take place tomorrow morning.
Tyrangiel's written testimony says the current rules -- enacted during the pre-Internet era in the form of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 -- "may have made sense in the past" but "have failed to keep up with the development of technology, and the ways in which individuals and companies use, and increasingly rely on, electronic and stored communications."
But she also says that the department's civil attorneys investigating antitrust, environmental, civil rights and other cases -- and presumably other federal agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission -- should have warrantless access to Americans' electronic correspondence.
The crux of the federal government’s argument is that computers ought to be treated like landline telephones under the (pre-Internet) law.