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The Federal Government Can Legally Read Your Emails After 180 Days

The Federal Government Can Legally Read Your Emails After 180 Days
[Photo: Flickr user Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería]

Did you know that’s it’s perfectly legal for the federal government to read any of your emails that are over six months old?

Most people don’t. It’s the result of a bit of ambiguous wording in a communications law from 1986: a time when few people had even heard of email. Known as the “180-day” rule, the law classifies any messages or documents stored in the cloud for longer than this period as “abandoned” and therefore perfectly acceptable to read.

“The government is essentially using an arcane loophole to breach the privacy rights of Americans,” Republican representative Kevin Yoder of Kansas told McClatchy. “They couldn’t kick down your door and seize the documents on your desk, but they could send a request to Google and ask for all the documents that are in your Gmail account. And I don’t think Americans believe that the Constitution ends with the invention of the Internet.”

But the government is now under increasing pressure to change the law. Alongside Colorado Democrat representative Jared Polis, Yoder has proposed an Email Privacy Act, which would make it mandatory for government officials and law enforcement to obtain a proper search warrant based on probable cause in order to raid your email inbox. The bill was announced this month and is buffered by growing bipartisan concern about digital privacy.

Although companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Google have lobbied to change the law, too, for now it remains in effect. And, as always, deleting files may not help, since copies may exist on a third-party server somewhere.

[via McClatchy]LD