The PJ Tatler

IRS: We Have the Authority to Read Your Email


Newly disclosed documents prepared by IRS lawyers says 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.

That places the IRS at odds with a growing sentiment among many judges and legislators who believe that Americans’ e-mail messages should be protected from warrantless search and seizure. They say e-mail should be protected by the same Fourth Amendment privacy standards that require search warrants for hard drives in someone’s home, or a physical letter in a filing cabinet.

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.

Back in the ’90s, the Clinton Administration was looking to install back door keys like the Clipper Chip in everyone’s computer and the NSA was reportedly using its supercomputers to scan jillions of emails for anything suspicious. So I had AOL (yes, I had AOL) add a custom signature to the end of my outgoing messages. Just a string of words like “bomb” and “IRS” and “fertilizer” and “marijuana” and “border” and “Colombia” and whatever else my devious little mind came up with at the time.

Let them chew through “Where do we want to go out drinking?” emails until the cows come home, I figured. Then 9/11 happened and security got serious and I stopped attaching those signatures.

Right now, though, I’m giving serious thought to bringing them back.