FBI Says it Doesn’t Need a Warrant to Access Email, Facebook Communications

online_privacy_redbutton1The ACLU has obtained government documents that show the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI believe they do not need a search warrant to access emails, Facebook messages, Twitter direct messages, and other forms of social media communication. A U.S. attorney circulated an internal document claiming that a subpoena is all that is needed to obtain “nearly all data from an ISP”

The laws regarding the privacy rights of these kinds of messages are murky at best; just last month, the IRS said that it will not access emails without a warrant, but local cases across the country have played out differently. This wide range of responses has led to the ACLU calling for a uniform system of judging whether or not law enforcement entities can or cannot obtain online messages without a warrant. Even in the IRS’ case, they only ruled out tapping into people’s email accounts; they did not say that they wouldn’t mine Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites for information.

“We really can’t have this patchwork system anymore, where agencies get to decide on an ad hoc basis how privacy-protective they’re going to be,” Nathan Wessler, an ACLU staff attorney, told CNET. “Courts and Congress need to step in.”

Law enforcement officials also recently explored the option of making Facebook and other social media sites comply with wiretapping requests. Do you think that these organizations have the right to access people’s online communications? What should tech companies do to fight back, if anything?

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