How an email privacy bill trashes the very concept of privacy

  • 18 September 2015
  • NormanL
How an email privacy bill trashes the very concept of privacy

Legislation on email privacy is making its way through congress">Congress. Government agencies are against it, and some privacy advocates are for it. The problem is, as Mark Fitzgibbons notes, the bills under consideration would do nothing at all to secure your email privacy. They will actually make things much, much worse:

While purporting to require warrants signed by judges to search or seize emails from email storage systems, these bills actually expressly allow and give legislative imprimatur to federal and state agencies to issue judge-less administrative subpoenas to obtain private emails and content from individuals, businesses and nonprofit organization, i.e., every person and private entity in America except email storage providers.

What the NSA has been doing for national security purposes in blindly collecting metadata pales in comparison to encouraging hundreds, perhaps thousands, of federal and state agencies to collect and read the actual content of emails for far more mundane and non-exigent purposes than national security. 

This encourages the government to actually target minority groups, critics of government, practitioners of their religious beliefs, and others, thereby creating an environment to chill and even punish the exercise of First Amendment rights.

Some in Congress understand there is a problem with government snooping into your email account (no judge and certainly no warrant required). But in trying to fix this glaring Fourth Amendment violation, Congress intends to make your emails even less secure, less private, and open to any federal, state, or local official who decides to go fishing through your private papers.

The Founders recoiled at such behavior and purposely enacted the Fourth Amendment to stop it. Decades of court rulings and administrative over-reach have eroded those fundamental protections. If Congress truly wants to put things right, it can start by acknowledging its bills are deeply flawed. And then fix them -- immediately.

The government snoops won't like it. But that's the Fourth Amendment's intent: government can investigate. But it must follow all the rules to ensure the rights of all are respected and protected.