The IRS Can Read Your Emails

IRS: We can read emails without warrant

By Brendan Sasso

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has claimed that agents do not need  warrants to read people’s emails, text messages and other private electronic  communications, according to internal agency documents.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request, released the  information on Wednesday.

In a 2009 handbook, the IRS said the Fourth Amendment does not protect emails  because Internet users “do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such  communications.” A 2010 presentation by the IRS Office of General Counsel  reiterated the policy.


Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, government  officials only need a subpoena, issued without a judge’s approval, to read  emails that have been opened or that are more than 180 days old.

Privacy groups such as the ACLU argue that the Fourth Amendment provides  greater privacy protections than the ECPA, and that officials should need a  warrant to access all emails and other private messages.

Traditionally, the courts have ruled that people have limited privacy rights  over information they share with third parties. Some law enforcement groups have  argued that this means they only need a subpoena to compel email providers,  Internet service companies and others to turn over their customers’ sensitive  content. 

But in 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that police violated a man’s  constitutional rights when they read his emails without a warrant.

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