CNet reports that the Internal Revenue Service is making a change in its e-mail search policy:
The head of the Internal Revenue Service said today the agency would abandon its controversial policy that claimed the right to read taxpayers’ e-mail without first obtaining a search warrant.
Steven Miller, the IRS’ acting commissioner, said at a U.S. Senate hearing that the no-warrant-required policy would be ditched within 30 days for e-mail, but he did not make the same commitment for other private electronic communications. […]
Internal IRS memos prepared by the agency’s lawyers and disclosed last week said Americans enjoy “generally no privacy” in their e-mail, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and similar online communications. Until today’s Senate hearing, the IRS had declined to answer questions about the memos. […]
Miller said that it was currently the agency’s policy to obtain a “search warrant in advance” when conducting a criminal probe that required access to taxpayers’ e-mail records. However, he told Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, that he didn’t know whether that was the case for private communications exchanged through Facebook and Twitter.
One IRS 2009 Search Warrant Handbook obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union argues that “e-mails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy and thus their Fourth Amendment protection once they have been sent from an individual’s computer.” The handbook was prepared by the Office of Chief Counsel for the Criminal Tax Division and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The IRS continued to take the same position, the documents indicate, even after a federal appeals court ruled in the 2010 case U.S. v. Warshak that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their e-mail. A few e-mail providers, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, but not all, have taken the position that Warshak mandates warrants for e-mail.