Is the government reading your e-mail messages? A routine law enforcement technique of using subpoenas instead of search warrants to obtain e-mail from internet service providers (ISPs) means that literally anyone who uses the Internet risks intrusion from unlawful government surveillance practices.
Subpoenas can be issued under a much lower standard than the probable cause standard used for search warrants. They require only a reasonable possibility that the materials or testimony sought will produce information relevant to the general subject of the investigation.
Unfortunately, it often seems ISPs are only too pleased to satisfy the random government inquiry. Although precise data is difficult to obtain, ISPs receive hundreds of subpoenas of this type each month. Rather than comply at once, an ISP that receives a subpoena should seek immediate legal advice to avoid handing over data that the government isn’t legally entitled to or that the provider is legally forbidden from disclosing. There is no way to know how many subpoena recipients have opted for the path of least resistance and remained silent while simply handing over data that the government wasn’t actually entitled to receive.
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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
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