In yet another example of the federal government thinking the constitution is a dead letter, the Internal Revenue Service apparently thinks that they can read your emails without bothering to get a warrant from a judge. They claim there is no expectation of privacy when sending email.
Newly disclosed documents prepared by IRS lawyers say that Americans enjoy “generally no privacy” in their e-mail, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and similar online communications — meaning that they can be perused without obtaining a search warrant signed by a judge…
An IRS 2009 Search Warrant Handbook obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union argues that “emails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy and thus their Fourth Amendment protection once they have been sent from an individual’s computer.” The handbook was prepared by the Office of Chief Counsel for the Criminal Tax Division and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act…The IRS continued to take the same position, the documents indicate, even after a federal appeals court ruled in the 2010 case U.S. v. Warshak that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their e-mail. A few e-mail providers, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, but not all, have taken the position that Warshak mandates warrants for e-mail.
That “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard that the courts apply has always seemed to me like a bad basis for judging such cases. Whether one expects privacy in some situation has little to do with whether one should have privacy in that situation. And email should be treated no differently than any other communication. By the IRS’ reasoning, they should be able to intercept your mail and read it without a warrant, something no judge would ever allow.