The Washington Post reports on the Justice Department making a change on its stance concerning warrant requirements for e-mail:
The Justice Department has dropped its long-standing objection to proposed changes that would require law enforcement to get a warrant before obtaining e-mail from service providers, regardless of how old an e-mail is or whether it has been read.
“There is no principled basis” to treat e-mail less than 180 days old differently than e-mail more than 180 days old, Elana Tyrangiel, acting assistant attorney general in the department’s Office of Legal Policy, said Tuesday. […]
Current law requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before gaining access to e-mail that is 180 days old or less if it has not been opened. But prosecutors may obtain e-mail older than 180 days, or any e-mail that has been opened, with a mere subpoena.
Prosecutors can obtain a subpoena if they believe that the material sought would be relevant to an investigation. For a warrant, they need to convince a judge that the e-mail contains probable cause of a crime.
The department’s shift means that legislative efforts to amend the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act stand a better chance at succeeding. Lawmakers have drafted legislation that would impose a warrant requirement for all e-mail held by commercial providers.
In practice, since a 2010 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit requiring a warrant for stored e-mail, most large commercial e-mail providers, such as Google and Yahoo, have adopted that standard.