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Feds announce they can seize all your emails, phone chats without a warrant

Friday, May 17, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: DOJ, electronic surveillance, civil liberties

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(NaturalNews) Any American educated in the founding of our country and who has paid even a little bit of attention to the Obama Administration fully understands that this president believes his is an imperial regime unrestrained by the same Constitution that guided his predecessors. And while many of them certainly stretched our founding documents to its limits and beyond, perhaps no presidential administration at least since the 1930s has flouted the rule of law so often as President Obama and his appointees.

Take the example of Attorney General Eric Holder, who recently claimed the federal government now has the authority to seize personal email, Twitter direct messages and Facebook chats without first obtaining a search warrant, as the Constitution's Fourth Amendment mandates.

According to internal documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which were provided to CNET, "show a split over electronic privacy rights within the Obama Administration, with Justice Department prosecutors and investigators privately insisting they're not legally required to obtain search warrants for e-mail," the website reported.

'Courts and Congress need to step in'

The news comes as the Internal Revenue Service, now under fire for illegally singling out conservative and Tea Party groups for special scrutiny, said in April it was abandoning a hugely controversial policy claiming the agency could obtain email correspondence without first getting a search warrant.

According to CNET, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan "The U.S. attorney for Manhattan circulated internal instructions, for instance, saying a subpoena - a piece of paper signed by a prosecutor, not a judge - is sufficient to obtain nearly 'all records from an ISP.'" Also, the U.S. attorney in Houston was recently able to obtain "contents of stored communications" from an Internet service provider that wasn't named without first getting court-ordered search warrant, as required by the Constitution.

"We really can't have this patchwork system anymore, where agencies get to decide on an ad hoc basis how privacy-protective they're going to be," Nathan Wessler, an ACLU staff attorney who specializes in privacy and who obtained the documents in question, told CNET. "Courts and Congress need to step in."

The Justice Department has not simply ignored the Constitution by neglecting to obtain warrants to search or seize private files stored on servers of private companies; DOJ has also ignored one of its own federal appeals courts, which ruled in 2010 that failure to obtain a warrant before securing emails is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.


A previously unreleased version of an FBI manual...last updated two-and-a-half years after the appellate ruling, says field agents "may subpoena" e-mail records from companies "without running afoul of" the Fourth Amendment.

In response to inquiries from the website, the FBI released a statement: "In all investigations, the FBI obtains evidence in accordance with the laws and Constitution of the United States, and consistent with Attorney General guidelines. Our field offices work closely with U.S. Attorney's Office to adhere to the legal requirements of their particular districts as set forth in case law or court decisions/precedent."

This statement could have been - and should have been - much shorter. All the FBI needed to say was, "The Justice Department follows the letter of the Constitution," but of course, if that were the case, including those bits about "Attorney General guidelines" and "legal requirements of their particular districts" would not have been necessary.

Creeping arrogance

While not all U.S. attorneys have tried to obtain stored email correspondence without a warrant, "the position taken by other officials - including the authors of the FBI's official surveillance manual - puts the department at odds with a growing sentiment among legislators who insist that Americans' private files should be protected from warrantless search and seizure," CNET's Declan McCollagh reported.

They maintain that the clear meaning of the Fourth Amendment is that Americans' private "papers and effects" are not subject to arbitrary examination by authorities who do not possess a valid search warrant, as well as "probable cause" to search in the first place.

There is a creeping arrogance emblematic of the growing lawlessness demonstrated by key federal agencies and the Obama Administration in general. Increasingly this administration behaves as though it has license to operate as a "governing" class, apart from the masses and answerable to no one, simply because the president won an election.

That's not our system, and it's not our heritage.

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