IRS Claims Right to Read Your Emails Without a Warrant
According to documents obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act, the IRS expressed its belief that the Fourth amendment does not apply to the agency because Internet users “do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications.” The ACLU found that admission in a 2009 IRS handbook. A 2010 presentation by the IRS Office of General Counsel confirmed the policy.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 requires that government officials have only a subpoena, issued without a judge’s approval, to read emails.
However, in 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that police violated a man’s constitutional rights when they read his emails without a warrant. The IRS has maintained its policy regarding emails despite the court’s ruling.
In a 2011 memo, an IRS attorney actually makes that the ruling in U.S. v. Warshak, only applies in the Sixth Circuit, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
IRS attorneys did note that if Internet providers fought the request for information, it could result in protracted litigation.
Congress is currently working to update the outdated ECPA to better cover online communications.