Although the Internal Revenue Service denies that it actually does this, of course. Documents obtained from the IRS by the ACLU pursuant to an FOIA request demonstrate that the IRS believes that it can snoop into private email without first obtaining a search warrant. The warrant, of course, would require the IRS to convince a court both that they know with some specificity for what they’re searching and that they have probable cause for the searching.
According to a 2009 IRS employee handbook, though, the tax agency said the Fourth Amendment does not protect emails because Internet users don’t “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications.”
…the current online version of the IRS manual says that no warrant is required for emails that are stored by an Internet storage provider for more than 180 days.
Never mind the degree of mind reading required of the IRS (and the courts) to arrive at a conclusion concerning what a private citizen has in his own mind concerning his own expectations. This is a blatant attempt by the IRS simply to slide past our courts as if they had no existence—or relevance to the Internal Revenue Service.
On that matter of email older than 180 days, or on opened email not requiring a warrant, it seems to me that the age and opening criteria create a false dichotomy in privacy and 4th Amendment rights.
Age is wholly irrelevant. Privacy has no expiration date.
Having opened a correspondence in no way puts that correspondence, of necessity, into the public arena. Opening a letter and leaving it on a table next to my couch at home certainly does not, nor does leaving an email on my personal PC or laptop. Nor does having a copy of my email on an Internet service provider’s servers, whether I’ve opened the email or not. The ISP’s failure to manage its storage in no way causes any alteration of my privacy.
Too, in what way are providers required to turn over that which does not belong to them—they’re pipelines, not publishers or authors in this context, after all?
Finally, a question: what’s the government’s “view” on encrypted correspondence that’s been left on a provider’s server for more than 180 days? Am I obligated by that, somehow, to give up the encryption key on government demand with no warrant extant?