by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
david petreaus, email, expa, fbi, snooping, warrants

How Much Did The FBI Snoop On Email Messages To Uncover The Petreaus Situation?

from the all-for-what? dept

As you're probably aware since it's "the big story" right now, General David Petreaus stepped down last week after an FBI investigation turned up an affair he'd been having. It seems that every few hours more news "breaks" on the story, and it keeps getting more involved, with a growing number of players (and with each new revelation the story gets more and more bizarre). However, some have started wondering how and why the FBI was snooping on various emails. The original story was that it came about after Petreaus' mistress allegedly sent threatening (anonymous) emails to another woman, who reported them to the FBI. From that came a wider investigation, which supposedly may involve another General and a variety of other players. But some are realizing that this seems to show how the FBI has pretty free rein in terms of snooping on email accounts hosted online:
Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, federal authorities need only a subpoena approved by a federal prosecutor — not a judge — to obtain electronic messages that are six months old or older. To get more recent communications, a warrant from a judge is required. This is a higher standard that requires proof of probable cause that a crime is being committed.
But even that isn't entirely clear. Folks like Julian Sanchez have been puzzling through the timeline of events and wondering how a simple investigation into a small number of "rude" (but not illegal) emails then uncovered thousands of questionable emails involving a different general as alleged in the news that broke last night. It feels like the FBI may have taken a simple report of misconduct (which may have been driven by another love triangle issue involving an FBI agent who seemed to take the whole thing a lot more personally than makes sense) and turned it into a massive fishing expedition.

Given how fast new parts of this story keep breaking, I'm sure there are still a number of other dominoes to fall, but hopefully this actually gets people to pay attention to just how easy it is for law enforcement to snoop on people's emails these days based on next to nothing.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2012 @ 1:01pm

    Re: FBI reviewing every email

    I don't see anything wrong with the FBI reviewing every email sent to or from anyone involved in this

    Why the shortcut? What is wrong with asking a judge for permission before snooping on God knows what? Why do you accept violation of your privacy for someone else's indiscretion?

    You may not realize it, but you are arguing for a police state.

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