Friday, May 17, 2013

AG Holder's Non-Answer on Warrants for Email

    At a Congressional hearing on May 15, Attorney General Eric Holder faced some rather hostile questions from lawmakers regarding recent Obama administration scandals, such as the IRS targeting of conservative non-profits, the Justice Department acquisition of Associated Press phone records, and Benghazi. However, about three hours into the hearing, a relatively friendly questioner, Susan DelBene (D-WA), inquired about a recent report from the ACLU concerning FBI documents that suggest that the FBI does not need a warrant to obtain access to at least some private emails.  The attorney general's answer was barely an answer at all, despite The Hill's assertion that "Holder backs warrant requirement for most email searches":
Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday that the Justice Department will likely support legislation requiring law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before accessing private online messages, such as emails or Facebook messages.
"It is something that I think the Department will support," Holder said in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.
He urged Congress to exempt "certain very limited circumstances" such as civil investigations.
"But the more general notion of having a warrant to obtain the content of communications from a service provider is something that we support," Holder said.
    However, The Hill's article actually reports Holder's answer to DelBene's follow up question.  Here is the full exchange, beginning with DelBene's original question regarding obtaining certain emails without a warrant:

    Perhaps The Hill was simply being kind to the attorney general by not printing his initial answer given the lack of coherence.  Whatever enthusiasm Mr. Holder showed for updating legislation, he was clearly not anxious to surrender the freedom the FBI and the Justice Department currently assume the right to exercise.  This non-answer combined with the non-apology for the seizure of AP phone records cannot give privacy advocates a good feeling about this administration's view of government's limits on its investigative powers.

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