The recent scandal involving the CIA, FBI, and email has shed new light on American’s email security. Former CIA Director David Petreaus resigned over an extramarital affair with biographer, Paula Broadwell. Jill Kelley, the third member of the love triangle, contacted the FBI when she received an anonymous, threatening email (from Broadwell). The FBI sent a request to the ISP of the email and was able to see all emails older than six months. The electronic paper trail revealed the extramarital affair and the rest is history. The FBI had access to an unlimited amount of email information without a warrant. This loophole is the subject of pending legislation in the US Senate.
According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, law enforcement does not need a warrant to read emails that are older than six months. They only need to request the information from the ISP. This law was passed long before any politician knew what the ‘cloud’ was. Email storage was costly and information was deleted after a few months.
Those days are long gone. The cost of data storage has shrunk drastically, raising concerns of possible email abuse by law enforcement. Thanks to the Petreaus affair, this concern is causing lawmakers to update the antiquated law.
A bill is making its way through the US Senate addressing the warrantless search of emails. It has the support of the ACLU. The language of the proposed legislation requires law enforcement to demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant for access to all email records.