Lee Signs Letter Condemning IRS Warrantless Searches

April 16, 2013

WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Mike Lee (UT) joined several of his colleagues in sending a letter to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), condemning their practice of accessing citizens’ private electronic communications, including emails, without a warrant.  He released the following statement:

“The contents of private email communications are currently subject to an outdated privacy protection regime, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).  ECPA was enacted in 1986 and no longer serves the realities of modern Internet technology.  As a result of antiquated provisions of this law, the IRS improperly believes it is entitled to warrantless access to the contents of Americans’ emails, so long as such communications are more than 180 days old.

“I believe this approach is a clear violation of Fourth Amendment rights, and now is the time to update ECPA to protect Americans.  The Leahy-Lee ECPA Amendments Act of 2013 brings the law up to date and is consistent with the rest of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.  It mandates that government agencies show probable cause and obtain warrants to view the contents of private email communication, no matter how old the messages are.

“I appreciated today’s Senate Finance Committee testimony of IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller, which indicated that the IRS would update its policies and establish a warrant requirement.  I am still concerned that both the IRS manual and recently uncovered IRS documents do not reflect these views.  As we wait for legislative developments, I concur with my colleagues that the IRS should immediately establish a warrant requirement for its searches and seizures of email and other electronic personal correspondence.  Additionally, we are asking the IRS to provide a timeline for updating its manuals, opinions and other forms of guidance to reflect this change.”