E-mail Investigation Can Be Conducted By The IRS Without Search Warrant


The University of California, Los Angeles was able to uncover some documents saying that an e-mail investigation can be conducted by the Internal Revenue Service to anyone without the issuance of a search warrant, according to CNET. That means the people in the IRS can read your e-mail anytime they deem necessary.

The documents, which were obtained by UCLA, were made by the legal team of IRS said the report. The papers indicate that U.S. citizens generally do not enjoy privacy in their e-mails, Tweets, Facebook chats and other similar online communications.

The position of the IRS on the matter was not well-received by judges and legislators though. They said that an e-mail investigation should be protected by the provisions of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, many find it ironic that handwritten or printed letters and hard drives require warrants because they are covered by the provision of the Constitution against unreasonable searches, but e-mails are not.

Here is the content of the Amendment IV of the U.S. Constitution which was published by Cornell University Law School:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

However, in the 2009 Search Warrant Handbook of IRS prepared by the Office of Chief Counsel for the Criminal Tax Division and basing from the Freedom of Information Act, e-mails are not covered by the Fourth Amendment. The guidebook acquired by the American Civil Liberties Union claims that e-mails and other online communications are not protected by the provision, because once it leaves the user’s computer, it loses its reasonable expectation of privacy. Thus, an e-mail or online communication is not the same with stored messages in the hard drive that requires a search warrant to be accessed.

How to Protect Your E-mail

From the interview with Seth Rosenblatt, senior editor of CNET, there are actually ways to protect your email which are actually practical in nature. Here they are:

1. Go to an Internet Café that is away from your home, office or the places that you usually go to. This will provide a safe avenue where your online activities not be traced easily.

2. Sign-up for an e-mail account that does not have your personal information like name, address and others that can directly link you to the account. Use another heading for your subject too in order misguide cyber sleuths.

3. Rosenblatt recommends masking your IP address using software such as Hotspot Shield. Then there is also TOR that enables you to maintain your anonymity over the Internet. You can use virtual private network (VPN) as well for added security.

Rosenblatt cleared out though that there will always be ways to overcome the solutions that he presented. A clever investigator or hacker can probably trace you using complex processes. However, doing so would require more work on their part than the usual and the chance of their success is lowered with the methods that he presented.

Source: CNET and Cornell University Law School

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