Feds: 4th Amendment Shouldn't Apply To Online Emails Because… That Would Make Us Have To Work Harder
from the um...-that's-the-point,-isn't-it? dept
Ah, our ever-dwindling Fourth Amendment. The latest is that the Obama Administration has come out against a particular reform of ECPA (the Electronic Communications Privacy Act), the 25-year-old statute that governs online privacy issues, which almost anyone with any sort of technical knowledge admits is woefully outdated. For example, a key point is that any content stored on a server for more than 180 days is considered “abandoned,” and thus the government does not need a warrant to access it. But, of course, these days, when many people leave all of their content on a remote server, that doesn’t make much sense. So the effort underway is to reform and fix those problems.
But the Obama administration doesn’t like that because it likes being able to access such content with ease and without the oversight of having to show probable cause in a warrant.
Congress should recognize the collateral consequences to criminal law enforcement and the national security of the United States if ECPA were to provide only one means — a probable cause warrant — for compelling disclosure of all stored content. For example, in order to obtain a search warrant for a particular e-mail account, law enforcement has to establish probable cause to believe that evidence will be found in that particular account. In some cases, this link can be hard to establish.
In other words, “the 4th Amendment makes life hard for us, so please let us ignore it.” You see, the point of the 4th Amendment is that it’s supposed to make the government’s life hard. It’s supposed to be hard work for law enforcement to prove that it needs to violate someone’s privacy. It’s supposed to be difficult, because the point of the 4th Amendment is to protect citizens from the government, not to make the government’s job easy.