U.S. attorney general: Government should get a warrant before email, cloud storage snooping

U.S. attorney general: Government should get a warrant before email, cloud storage snooping

Summary: The U.S.' highest ranking lawyer supports changes to existing email and online storage snooping laws, which are currently under scrutiny in the U.S. House.

Congress is currently scrutinizing existing email and online storage laws. (Image: CNET)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder supports privacy changes that would require the government to seek a warrant based on probable cause to obtain cloud-stored email, and other documents and files stored in the cloud.

"But the more general notion of having a warrant to obtain the content of communications from a service provider is something that we support," Holder added, noting that citizen privacy and the government's ability to access such data is "one of the most important conversations" to be had in this day and age.

He stated that there were "very limited circumstances" in which there should be exemptions, such as in civil investigations. 

Holder becomes highest ranking White House official to support such cloud-stored privacy protections.

It's a far cry away from the Justice Department's position only two years ago, whereby the government agency warned that police investigations and "human life" would be under threat if search warrants were required for email and location data.

Under current e-storage rules, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) currently allows the U.S. government to access email older than six months old or if they had been marked as "read" or opened, with a subpoena signed by a federal prosecutor. Only email less than six months old requires a warrant signed by a judge. 

The government only needs to offer an administrative subpoena — a request for data that bypasses the courts and the judiciary — in which it has "reasonable grounds to believe" that such data would be useful in an active investigation.

Holder's comments come at a time when ECPA is under scrutiny in Congress.

A bipartisan bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in late April that would amend ECPA, signed into law in 1986 when email was still in its infancy and cloud-based services didn't exist, that will require the government to inform a U.S. resident when their email has been disclosed via a search warrant.

Two exceptions exist, where a National Security Letter "gagging order" — which was recently ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court; and the other if it would jeopardize an ongoing investigation.

The Justice Department's acting assistant attorney general Elana Tyrangiel said during a hearing in a U.S. House committee in March that "it makes sense that the statute not accord lesser protection to opened emails than it gives to emails that are unopened."

Topics: Security, Government US, Privacy

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  • U.S. attorney general: Cops should get a warrant before email snooping

    Though his own department doesn't need to follow their own rules, or so his recent actions have shown.
    William Farrel
  • This AG should be in jail

    how many more scandals will this Chicago scum get away with.
    • Prediction

      The majority of the Talkbackers who are currently spending their time reviling the current President of the U.S. and everybody even remotely associated with him will regard the next Republican president and his administration as sacrosanct, and complain loudly any time he's criticized. As the last Democrat elected to succeed another as President was James Buchanan, I expect to start seeing this behavior some time between November, 2016 and January 2017.

      Even though I reluctantly changed my registration from independent back to Democratic last year, it still seems to me that party loyalty is almost synonymous with hypocrisy.
      John L. Ries
      • AG

        I'd suggest the last AG that I trusted was Griffin Bell and his boss was really something else.
        • I respected Griffin Bell

          He, Cyrus Vance, and Edmund Muskie were probably President Carter's best appointments (Bert Lance was probably his worst).
          John L. Ries
      • Did you just change it back to dem to avoid an IRS audit?

        btw, no way GOP wins in 2016, the 47%, foostampers, section 8's, welfare creeps, etc outnumber any group in the country. They will keep voting for their master.
        • Then why does any Republican win?

          But no, I reverted to Democratic registration because I came to the conclusion I was partially disenfranchising myself as an independent, and that after 22 years, I was still more Democrat than Republican (especially in Utah).

          ...but I voted for Romney (one of three Republicans I voted for last year), but I have a long history of voting for losing presidential candidates.
          John L. Ries
          • You're a loser in more ways than one...

            when you claim that you voted for Romney (very doubtful), and when you're every word indicates that, you're a democrat, through-and-through.

            You have a long history of supporting people who are very damaging to the country, and you have a long history of being wrong.

            You also have a long history of not being credible at all.

            People in politics don't lie using the word, "liar", but not me, and so, I'll call you what you are, and that's a first class LIAR!!! ;( ;)
          • Believe what you like...

            ...but what I said is true. Ironically, you're part of why I changed my mind on the advantages and disadvantages of being politically unaffiliated. My political views are my own and I don't apologize for them. I vote for whomever I think are the best available candidates, regardless of party, and don't apologize for that either (that's been my habit since the very first time I voted). I have difficulty distinguishing between party loyalty (the least of all political virtues AFAIC) and rank hypocrisy; but my view may be overly cynical. The politicians I admire most tend to be mavericks; the ones I admire least are party hacks, demagogues, and chameleons; such has it always been and probably will always be.

            If I seem different that that to you, it's probably because I have no patience at all with the sort of talk radio demagoguery, anti-intellectualism, and cheap sloganeering that have come to infect the American right over the past 25 years (but I appreciate a thoughtful conservative). I don't like the Democratic Party's embrace of the counterculture either, but we don't usually talk about those issues in tech forums.
            John L. Ries
          • You're still a phony, John, no matter how much you try to spin away

            from the facts about your allegiance, which can be found on each of your posts.

            You are a die-hard democrat, and pretending that you're no hack and vote only on the candidate's worthiness, is just a bunch of bull.

            You're not kidding anyone. So, stop the BeeEss!
          • By the way

            Voting for losing candidates doesn't make one a loser as you should know as well as I do. I'm 1-7 (W-L) in presidential elections (with a single abstention), but there's only one of those votes (plus the abstention) I'd take back (in which case, I'd have been 1-8).

            I don't expect to significantly affect any outcomes with my single vote, but I and every other citizen have a duty to shove our opinions into the ballot box regardless.
            John L. Ries
          • And you, Sir ...

            ... are an a$$h0le. (And not a first class one, either!)
          • you are an $$$

            sure even a simpleton like you can figure that one out. The reality is neither group is interested in the american people, time and time again no matter what they say their actions prove it. if your a die hard supporter of the republicans thinking they have your best interest at heart (only if your high up on wall street) then your a complete fool. and i'm afraid the same goes for the democrats. To blindly follow any group isn't patriotic, its being a sheep. The state of our country today has more to do with the republicans than the democrats who did slightly less damage. And it started with the puppet known a Reagon. As time has goon by I find myself more and more respecting the work of President Carter. Who at least tried to do good, not that the republicans would let him do much. its obvious its been a long time since you had a real thought in your head that you didn't get from someone else. And i know this is rather pointless because people like you will never get that wake up call no matter the evidence. Just going to blindly accepting the party line without question.
  • Secret Agenda

    When any US Attorney General suggest limiting police power you know there is something going on. And it's something bad for us.
    • I see it as good...

      Anytime you can limit government is is good - we need to buck up and go back to being the "Land of the Brave" and quit being pansies about every little threat. It has been recognized that we already had the information to prevent 911, we just didn't have the internal cooperation between departments to do anything with the data. The Boston bombing showed this problem again - we need to think smarter not harder. Surveilling millions of people is the stupid way to do things. A Ricky Rat program would garner better results!
  • Couldn't he simply order this?

    After all, he is responsible for supervising the FBI and several other federal law enforcement agencies. Or better yet, he could advise President Obama to issue such an order, as he supervises all of them.
    John L. Ries
    • The FBI, yes.

      The A.G. has no say over the NSA, CIA, or Homeland Security (a.k.a. gestapo.) Homeland Security, in particular, was created as a personal army that answers only to the President. It was created so the Executive Branch could simply reassign military personnel to D.H.S. to get around the portion of the Constitution which forbids the military from being used on U.S. soil against U.S. citizens. When they declare martial law, and they will, you'll see massive transfers of military personnel to D.H.S. Then, they'll be going door to door and patrolling the streets to quell any resistance to the coming new world order. It's a shame nobody sees the parallels between everything happening now in this country and the things Hitler did to take over Germany. Our only hope is that our soldiers may refuse to fire on U.S. citizens, regardless of their orders.
      • Well put

        Your eloquent synopsis is quite on the money. The last few administrations have had a field day with the Constitution and more directly, the first ten amendments. The flagrant use of Executive Orders and "interpretations" of the document are unsettling. The Constitution is not open to interpretation and I pray for the day that a group of our law makers says to the powers that be; "No. You can't do that."
      • Gestapo?

        I agree that the DHS is CAPABLE of morphing into a Gestapo-like organization, but it has not yet done so, even under the Bush administration. President Obama has the tools but has not been as agressive in using them as Bush was, especially for partisan purposes. Indeed, the neo-cons' reputation led some reasonable people to fear just that (I joked that the 2004 Democratic National Convention would be held in Guantanamo because all the Democrats would be there already). But even Bush's base would not have allowed that. And although Obama has made some use of the PATRIOT Act powers, there is no evidence that he has used them other than on REAL threats such as OBL (remember him?), and his AG has basically asked Congress to roll back those powers, so that no future President (not even Hillary, but especially not Rick Perry or Marco Rubio) would have them.

        There is a certain irony in the historical record in that Republicans have pushed for several limitations on Democratic power and enhancements of Republican power, then found that the first occasion to limit or use these measures affect the President in the opposite of the intended way. For example:

        Republicans were afraid that a future Democratic President would be able to stay on for life by winning re-election as FDR had done, so they pushed for the 22nd Amendment; but the first President to be term-limited by it was Eisenhower! And the Reagan and Bush Sr. Congress rushed through a line item veto power, which could not take effect until after a Presidential election, and it turned out the first President to use that power (and the ONLY one, since SCOTUS found it unconstitutional) was Bill Clinton! And the PATRIOT Act, which was passed originally to give Bush Jr. the power to fight the War on Terror (TM) at home, has now been inherited by the President they love to hate, so they are having second thoughts about it.
        • I power can be abused it wiil be...

          We don't need the kind of "protection" the alarmist seem to think is required.

          Power corrupts - "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." - John Emerich Edward Dalberg