Obama Justice Department Graciously Acknowledges that It Shouldn't Snoop Your Emails Without a Warrant


The Washington Post is reporting today that the U.S. Justice Department is finally giving up its unconstitutional claim that the Feds have the right to read your emails after 180 days:

The Justice Department has dropped its long-standing objection to proposed changes that would require law enforcement to get a warrant before obtaining e-mail from service providers, regardless of how old an e-mail is or whether it has been read.

"There is no principled basis" to treat e-mail less than 180 days old differently than e-mail more than 180 days old, Elana Tyrangiel, acting assistant attorney general in the department's Office of Legal Policy, said Tuesday.

Current law requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before gaining access to e-mail that is 180 days old or less if it has not been opened. But prosecutors may obtain e-mail older than 180 days, or any e-mail that has been opened, with a mere subpoena.

Prosecutors can obtain a subpoena if they believe that the material sought would be relevant to an investigation. For a warrant, they need to convince a judge that the e-mail contains probable cause of a crime.

The department's shift means that legislative efforts to amend the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act stand a better chance at succeeding. Lawmakers have drafted legislation that would impose a warrant requirement for all e-mail held by commercial providers.

Well, hooray!

For a depressing roundup of how our national security state secretly spies on you, see my Reason colleague Jacob Sullum's excellent column, "Obama's Cloak of Invisibility." See also my article, "Your Cellphone is Spying on You," for how law enforcement agencies track you using your cell phone location data.