(NaturalNews) As the government continues to widen its electronic surveillance in the ongoing fight against “terrorism,” Americans are witnessing the slow, steady erosion of their constitutional right to privacy embodied within the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
As reported by McClatchy Papers, the federal government now has the authority — somehow — to read emails that are more than six months old, and without a court-issued warrant. So, if ever there was an incentive to clear out your inbox and your trash, this is certainly it.
The paper chain further reported:
Little known to most Americans, ambiguous language in a communications law passed in 1986 extends Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure only to electronic communications sent or received fewer than 180 days ago.
This is despite there being no limit to the Fourth Amendment’s privacy protections contained within the Constitution.
The law, known formally (and ironically) as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, contains what is known as a “180-day rule,” which authorizes government officials to treat emails, text messages or documents that have been stored on remote services (now popularly known as the “cloud”) as “abandoned,” and therefore accessible without warrant and by subpoena power. Critics rightly have asserted that this loophole bypasses the Fifth Amendment’s due process requirements.
But, in your rush to purge your email and Dropbox accounts, you should know that even deleted files could still be considered as accessible with just an administrative or grand jury subpoena as long as those copies exist on third-party servers somewhere.
At the time it was passed, during the latter half of the Reagan years, not many people actually had an email account, according to U.S. Rep. Kevin Roder, R-Kansas, who is attempting to lead an effort to update the law in the House.
“The government is essentially using an arcane loophole to breach the privacy rights of Americans,” Yoder told McClatchy. “They couldn’t kick down your door and seize the documents on your desk, but they could send a request to Google and ask for all the documents that are in your Gmail account. And I don’t think Americans believe that the Constitution ends with the invention of the Internet.”
Yoder’s measure, introduced in a bipartisan manner with co-sponsor Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, would require any government agency or law enforcement entity to follow the requirement of the Fourth Amendment to get a search warrant issued on grounds of probable cause, although that doesn’t address the abandoned “and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” clause.
Government agencies would have to then notify account holders within three business days of accessing their digital records and communications; law enforcement officials would be given 10 days to notify users. In cases where there is fear of destruction of evidence or witness intimidation, or fear that a person’s safety might be at risk, a court would be permitted to grant notification delays.
McClatchy said similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate as well, by Republican Mike Lee of Utah and Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
“Other advocates for the bill include Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas; Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas; Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon; and Yoder’s fellow GOP representatives from Kansas: Mike Pompeo, Lynn Jenkins and Tim Huelskamp,” McClatchy reported.
The website IVN.us reported that 240 congressmen had signed onto Yoder’s measure.
Privacy is a bipartisan issue
But if history is any guide, the legislation faces an uphill battle, which is absurd given the 180-day rule’s blatant negative constitutional implications. Legislation to reform the 1986 law has floundered in Congress for years.
However, McClatchy reported, in the wake of the highly publicized electronic spying scandal involving the National Security Agency, there is momentum building this year for passage of Yoder’s measure, which is called the Email Privacy Act. A growing coalition of both liberals and conservatives are rallying behind the effort to bolster electronic privacy in the Digital Age.
“Privacy crosses political aisles, especially when we see the government expanding domestic spying in secret in so many different ways,” Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told McClatchy.
His digital privacy organization has been pushing such reform measures for years.
Major tech companies including Yahoo!, Facebook, Apple and Twitter, among others, are also pushing Yoder’s bill.
Written by J. D. Heyes
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