DOJ Documents Suggest Feds Read Emails, Texts Without a Warrant

Posted: May 15, 2013 3:55 PM
DOJ Documents Suggest Feds Read Emails, Texts Without a Warrant

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act Request from the Justice Department to examine the Obama Administration’s warrantless surveillance of citizens' emails and text messages, but received fifteen pages of completely blacked-out documents from the DOJ in response.

Totally Redacted FOIA response

“The documents we received from the FBI don’t flat out tell us whether FBI agents always get warrants, but they strongly suggest that they don’t.” ACLU Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler wrote Monday, suggesting the new documents from the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s offices “ paint a troubling picture of the government.”

The only visible text of the memo was DOJ’s letterhead and the subject line which reads, “Guidance for the Minimization of Text Messages over Dual-Function Cellular Telephones.”

“[The document is] so transparent it’s completely invisible,” one Reddit user described it.

The ACLU argues that current government surveillance practices on electronic communications violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, designed to protect Americans from unlawful searches and seizures.

“If nothing else, these records show that federal policy around access to the contents of our electronic communications is in a state of chaos. The FBI, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, and DOJ Criminal Division should clarify whether they believe warrants are required across the board when accessing people’s email,” Wessler wrote.

“It has been clear since 1877 that the government needs a warrant to read letters sent via postal mail. The government should formally amend its policies to require law enforcement agents to obtain warrants when seeking the contents of all emails too, ” he wrote.

Reform legislation to update the main statute protecting electronic and online privacy is making its way through the Senate now. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly in April to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and thus bring our privacy rights in line with the 21st century.