The American Civil Liberties Union claims the Internal Revenue Service routinely peruses Americans' private emails without a warrant.
Information obtained by the ACLU after filing a Freedom of Information Act last year revealed the practices of the IRS Criminal Tax Division, responsible for initiating criminal and civil litigation on tax-related charges.
The ACLU said the documents “reveal that the IRS Criminal Tax Division has long taken the position that the IRS can read your emails without a warrant.”
The ACLU claims the IRS is avoiding answering questions regarding whether they feel it is necessary to obtain a warrant before reading Americans’ private emails. 247 pages of documentation were turned over, but the IRS never stated a policy to first obtain a warrant.
Now the group claims the IRS is in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.
Judgment in the United States v. Warshak (2010) stated government agents violated the defendent's Fourth Amendment rights by obtaining emails from his ISP without first obtaining a warrant.
Attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, Nathan Freed Wessler, said there is no evidence the IRS has obtained warrants since Warshak, in fact “they suggest otherwise.”
A 2009 IRS Search Warrant Handbook stated:
“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.”
The ACLU received a 2010 IRS Office Chief Counsel presentation stating that the 4th Amendment does not cover emails stored on a server, so there is “no privacy expectation.”
In response, the ACLU argued that the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), allowing the government to view emails over 180 days old without a search warrant, is a “hopelessly outdated” law.
Lawmakers are currently seeking to update the ECPA to protect private email under the Fourth Amendment.