Here’s which tech companies won’t turn your emails over to the feds

|
(4)
The contents of these communications are secret. Email, maybe not so much.

When you write a letter, seal it in an envelope, and drop it in the mail, federal law is clear that it’s a private document. No government agent can legally open it up and read it without a warrant demonstrating probable cause under the Fourth Amendment. But really, when was the last time you sent anybody a letter?

In the age of ubiquitous electronic communication, it may seem surprising that the rules aren’t nearly as clear-cut when it comes to email. The American Civil Liberties Union recently received documents in response to a round of Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to a handful of federal agencies, in a bid to determine whether the feds universally obtain warrants to access private email records to aid in criminal investigations. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that the federal government does indeed need a warrant before accessing individuals’ private email messages – but that ruling only applies in four states covered by the Sixth Circuit (and California isn’t one of them).

“Our FOIA request was the FBI’s chance to produce any policy documents, manuals, or other guidance stating that a warrant is always required,” ACLU Staff Attorney Nate Wessler noted in a recent blog post. “But they failed to do so. Instead, the documents we received strongly suggest that the FBI doesn’t always get a warrant.”

In what Wessler terms a “patchwork of policies” that seemingly differ case by case and agency by agency, certain branches of the FBI interpret federal law to mean that they don’t need warrants in order to access emails that have already been opened, or emails that have been saved for 180 days or longer.

To get this information, agencies either issue a subpoena to the company that provides the email service, or secure a kind of court order, which is weaker than a warrant, demanding that the service provider share any messages that may be “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation,” Wessler explains.

Amid all the confusion and secrecy surrounding government requests for private emails, some tech companies have adopted a practice of challenging requests not accompanied with a warrant. “Some of the biggest email providers are pushing back,” Wessler says, adding that Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter all have good track records in this regard. “They have told federal law enforcement that they’ll only provide emails when they receive a probable cause warrant.” (Go here for the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s detailed rundown of which major tech companies exercise good privacy practices.)

But for every gold-star worthy company, there are scores of others who will just cave under pressure – and since these orders are walled off from public access, it’s nearly impossible to know how vague or detailed these information requests are, or for that matter, how company challenges to warrantless government requests ultimately pan out.

The ACLU and other civil liberties advocates are focused on reforming a federal law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, to require the government to treat email just like snail mail, by obtaining warrants to access any kind of electronic message regardless of when it was sent or whether it’s been opened. As Wessler notes, “it shouldn’t be that we have to rely on corporate entities to enforce our Fourth Amendment rights.”

Comments

Related:

The CEO of data-mining Facebook (the guy who didn't leave tips for servers in restaurants in Italy) is for the Keystone XL Pipeline, and in protest some "progressive" groups have removed themselves as best they can from FB. Although one is never removed completely from FB, in part, because of data-mining.
An article: Zuckerberg's lobby group losing top donors over Keystone XL support.

Secondly, I'm wondering when the city will change their Muni bus stop signs to read:

Tech Shuttles
and Muni

In that order. I was just out and there are far more tech shuttles coming from all directions than there are Muni buses now, and it seems that the current corporatist Board of Supervisors wouldn't care less that tech shuttles are using Muni bus stops (for free) to the degree that Muni buses can't get to their own stop. I saw that happen last week. 3 tech shuttles were clogged up at the 18th/Castro intersection and the 24 Muni line couldn't get to their own stop.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

Yeah well, for those who haven't seen this news story:

from Mr "Change We Can Believe In (2008)/Looking Forward (2012)":

Obama Administration Secretly Obtains Phone Records of AP Journalists
The Department of Justice secretly obtained phone records for reporters and editors who work for the Associated Press news agency, including records for the home phones and cell phones of individual journalists, according to the AP, in what the agency characterized as “serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.” The records, covering all of April and May 2012, were seized by the DoJ earlier this year and covered more than 20 separate phone lines. The records listed outgoing calls for both the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, as well as the general phone lines for AP bureaus in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and a main number used by AP reporters in the House of Representatives....

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/05/doj-got-reporter-phone-records/

One of the comments there:

"What an assclown! The Attorney General doesn't have the stones to prosecute corrupt bankers but can find the time and energy to investigate the press. Don't deal with corrupt bankers that fleeced billions (if not more), but do investigate reporters just doing their jobs? All in the name of national security?..."

I guess the hypocritical Obamabots will rush to defend this, but would be screaming in protest---as they should be---if Bush/Cheney were doing it.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

The intention of the Fourth Amendment was to prevent Government from seizing a person off the street simply because that person might be a suspect in a crime; the intention was to prevent police/government from entering a home to search for criminal activity (or political activity against the Administration), or to prevent government from intercepting private written communication-mail or -letters.

All of which were the practice of European countries in the 1600 and 1700s and even into the modern era of the Totalitarian State.

The computer is an adjunct to the home and therefore 'private'. Just as the telephone call is 'private'--whether that call is from a portable cell phone or a pay phone on the street. Or whether the computer is on the WiFi on Joe's Internet Café.

Now when someone posts something--especially criminal activity--on a website easily accessible to the public--no matter its 'privacy' settings--then that is something like setting up a huge billboard and there can be no expectation for privacy.

In a day and age of the ubiquitous camera, notions of privacy are severely compromised; and ubiquitous registration with government of everything from automobiles to zebras--privacy becomes problematic; intrusion from Government surveillance becomes problematic. None-the-less, the Founding Fathers intended for State requirement for a Search Warrant only with probable cause, and the home --and by extension the modern computer/cell phone--are to be regarded as 'private'.

And that, of course, is also why no one has any business hacking into someone else's computer--that is akin to breaking into a house--even if for a look see ...

Posted by StevenTorrey on May. 14, 2013 @ 6:01 am

Google, Yahoo and Hotmail has had dismal records of privacy; especially Yahoo which has actively participated in assisting the Chinese government in rooting out freedom fighters there. I believe your article shows a surprising level of naivety about this subject.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2013 @ 11:40 am