Latest Abuse: Feds Reading Emails Between Prisoners And Their Lawyers

from the because-they-can dept

Another day, another story of abuse by federal prosecutors. The latest is that they're now regularly reading the emails between inmates and their lawyers. These are the kinds of things that most people believe should be part of confidential attorney-client privilege. And, for quite some time, prosecutors respected that. However, now they're claiming that since prisoners using the prison email system agree to a notice upfront saying their communications may be monitored, they gave up that right.
Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.
The "divide" from judges seems pretty ridiculous. Some judges say it's okay in part because inmates have other ways to communicate privately with their lawyers, but everyone with a basis in reality notes that those "other ways" (mainly letters) take forever and really hamper the ability of an inmate to work with his or her lawyers. But, some courts just don't care.
The judge overseeing that case, Allyne R. Ross, ruled on Thursday that the government was allowed to review the emails. “The government’s policy does not ‘unreasonably interfere’ with Mr. DiFiore’s ability to consult his counsel,” she wrote.

In Dr. Ahmed’s case, the judge, Dora L. Irizarry, ruled against the government last month, barring it “from looking at any of the attorney-client emails, period.”
This certainly seems like one of those issues that's destined for the Supreme Court in the near future.

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  1. icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 27 Jul 2014 @ 9:03pm

    I really don't care for this decision -- the thinking behind it is very troubling. It's as if prisoners are considered to not have any basic rights in practice, regardless of any theory to the contrary...

    On the other hand, I do wonder how the e-mails between prisoners and their legal counsel are supposed to be segregated from the rest of their e-mail communications (which I presumes are understandably subject to monitoring). I really don't see any methods beyond

    a) encryption (which I'm pretty sure that prisoners aren't/won't be allowed to use)

    b) the honour system (which in effect means that the same authorities can be trusted to resist the temptation to not peek, even though they know it won't leave any trace visible to the prisoner or the lawyers).

    All of which leads to yet one more issue... At this point one has to ask: how do we really know that physical mail communications between prisoner and counsel are not being intercepted?

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