Knowing Your Government: Is there Any Such Thing As Email Confidentiality

email‘This message and any attached documents contain information which may be confidential, subject to privilege or exempt from disclosure under applicable law. These materials are intended only for the use of the intended recipient. If you are not the intended recipient of this transmission, you are hereby notified that any distribution, disclosure, printing, copying, storage, modification or the taking of any action in reliance upon this transmission is strictly prohibited. Delivery of this message to any person other than the intended recipient shall not compromise or waive such confidentiality, privilege or exemption from disclosure as to this communication. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify the sender and delete the message from your system.’

 

I  am sure that most of us have similar language on our corporate emails. Yet, we would never dream of adding this language to our personal emails.

House members  earlier this year,  voted 419-0 to pass the bipartisan Email Privacy Act, which requires government agents to get a warrant before they can gain access to Americans’ email, texts, photos, videos and other electronic communication, regardless of how old the data is.

The House bill had 314 co-sponsors, the highest number of any bill to come before this session of Congress. Ryan brought it to the floor quickly after it was passed unanimously two weeks ago by the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill was amended in committee so that law enforcement officials do not have to notify citizens when they serve a warrant on someone’s email provider to get access to a person’s communications. Companies that provide email service can notify their customers about the warrant except when a court determines that tipping someone off could result in a serious crime or terrorist act being committed.

That provision was a compromise sought by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., at the request of law enforcement officials. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said he preferred the bill’s original language, which would have required police agencies to notify people when they obtained warrants to read their emails.

Local, state and federal police agencies currently have the authority under the 1986Electronic Communications Privacy Act to peruse emails at will if the communication is at least six months old. Critics say that law, written before email was commonly used, violates Americans’ constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The House bill had 314 co-sponsors, the highest number of any bill to come before this session of Congress. Ryan brought it to the floor quickly after it was passed unanimously two weeks ago by the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill was amended in committee so that law enforcement officials do not have to notify citizens when they serve a warrant on someone’s email provider to get access to a person’s communications. Companies that provide email service can notify their customers about the warrant except when a court determines that tipping someone off could result in a serious crime or terrorist act being committed.

That provision was a compromise sought by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., at the request of law enforcement officials. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said he preferred the bill’s original language, which would have required police agencies to notify people when they obtained warrants to read their emails.

“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.”

That’s a direct quote from an internal IRS handbook obtained by the Americans Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act.

We would all know this if we actually took a moment to read what was going on around us. Since early 2015, the words “Clinton email scandal” have been a part of the public consciousness, sometimes lurking in veiled accusations.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which oversees recordkeeping for the federal government, requires the storage of records on governmental activities so that they can be referred to in the future, such as when a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is made or a Congressional panel decides that it needs to see them.

What’s included in the NARA’s definition of “records”? Here’s what their website says a federal record is:

Records include all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine-readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business . . . as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value of the data in them.

When you think about it, all emails are subject to some type of collection, detection and scrutiny.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s