The vast majority of people never take off the mattress tag. It stays with the bedding forever. Over my lifetime I have given many mattresses to Goodwill and other organizations, and I would bet those tags are still on those mattresses.
With this concept in mind, think about your e-mails. If you store them on a cloud server, then shouldn’t your privacy protections under the 4th amendment follow your e-mails, regardless of where they are ultimately stored?
Data storage companies have server farms all over the world, and from time to time, they make decisions on what data is deposited where. One month that data could be outside of Chicago, and six months or more from now, the data is moved to different or new storage facilities, say in Ireland.
E-mails are not paper, but digits. They are still your communications to someone. Shouldn’t your 4th amendment rights be upheld, regardless of where the digits are deposited? Shouldn’t those e-mails have an implied mattress tag that stays with them all over the world? What if our government wants to see your e-mails? What do you want the storage company to say to the government so that they can protect your rights? Is there ever a time that the government can see your e-mails without your permission?
I’m not aware of any laws that say the government can take what they want, when they want without notifying you, with one possible exception. That is the IRS. They can take your money and assets without asking you first. But setting the IRS aside, let us go back to your e-mails. You have protections under the Constitutional provisions of the 4th Amendment against illegal searches and seizures.
If the government wants to come into your house, place of business, car, or bank vault, just to name a few places, it needs a warrant signed by a judge proving probable cause to take away your rights. Your e-mail account is protected space, subject to the protections of the 4th amendment. You could be a terrorist or just suspected to be a terrorist, and the government still would have to get a warrant to take your e-mails.
When I was a young man, I served in the Army. I took my basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was in love with the woman who would become my wife. Recently I found an old box, and in it were the letters she sent to me over 50 years ago, and she has the ones I sent to her. There were more from her than from me. The medium for communication has changed from paper to digits, but it doesn’t mean that the digits have less protection than my wife’s beautiful handwriting.
The personal computer didn’t exist when we were exchanging thoughts 50 plus years ago. The laws need to be updated to adjust to the changes in technology. But in updating the legislation, we have to make sure we don’t give up our protections under the Constitution. Perhaps new laws being contemplated should have a renewal provision every ten years, instead of 30 years, to keep up with the latest improvements in technology.
We have a right to protect what we say, whether to our wife or husband, girlfriend, friends, or business associates. We have to be diligent. This is because sometimes non-elected staff people in the government can take it upon themselves to make decisions as to what should be accomplished, regardless of the law.
We have seen many examples of US intelligence-gathering agencies monitoring e-mail traffic gone awry. The reality is that we are a global community, interdependent with communications that are moving at ever increasing speed. Yet individual citizens, at least in America, still have a right to privacy and a government that does everything possible to protect those rights.
I still like the hand written notes I get from my wife, instead of e-mails.