In the aftermath of the General David Petraeus scandal, many of us were surprised to learn that if an email has been stored by a third party (for example, Gmail) for more than 180 days, the government can look at it without obtaining a warrant or showing probable cause.
This seems shockingly wrong.
Sen. Rand Paul recently proposed an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to fix this.
As Paul stated:
[D]igital records seem to get less protection than paper records. As the National Association of Defense Attorneys has pointed out, since the 1870’s, the government must get a warrant to look and read your mail, as is the case of Katz v. The United States, the government has been required to have a warrant to tap your phone. However, under current law, your e-mail, your text messages and other electronic communications do not receive the same level of protection as your phone calls do. Why is a phone call deserving of more protection than your e-mail or your text? (Emphasis mine.)
Predictably, Paul’s Fourth Amendment Protection Act was rejected by his colleagues. And yesterday, President Obama authorized five more years of warrantless wiretapping — sans the Paul (and other) amendments.
It’s entirely possible that there were legitimate reasons for rejecting Paul’s specific amendment, but there seems to be no legitimate argument for rejecting the spirit of the amendment.
Why is it wrong for the government to read a letter I left in my desk drawer, but not wrong for them to check my email without a warrant?
What is more, this raises an even larger issue: It’s time to rethink how the founding father’s intent should apply to modern communications technology.
Too bad our politicians don’t seem to be giving much thought to this…