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Petraeus case shows FBI's authority to read email

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Your emails are not nearly as private as you think.

The downfall of CIA Director David Petraeus demonstrates how easy it is for federal law enforcement agents to examine emails and computer records if they believe a crime was committed. With subpoenas and warrants, the FBI and other investigating agencies routinely gain access to electronic inboxes and information about email accounts offered by Google, Yahoo and other Internet providers.

"The government can't just wander through your emails just because they'd like to know what you're thinking or doing," said Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security and now in private law practice. "But if the government is investigating a crime, it has a lot of authority to review people's emails."

Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, federal authorities need only a subpoena approved by a federal prosecutor - not a judge - to obtain electronic messages that are six months old or older. To get more recent communications, a warrant from a judge is required. This is a higher standard that requires proof of probable cause that a crime is being committed.

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I am very, very skeptical

I am very, very skeptical about this whole scandal. Big deal, he had an affair. I assume everyone up there at the top is doing it and it was never a big deal before. Clinton still kept his job as the highest officer in the nation after several affairs and impeachment. So this just reeks of a distraction from some issue they don't want the public to latch onto. Honestly, I don't know why they bother because the proletariat is too stupid and apathetic to do anything about the worst offences of the government anyhow. What do they think we will do about anything, revolt or something? That would get in the way of watching reality tv.

Michael Nystrom's picture

That's what I've been thinking this whole time

when I've been reading these articles that say, "The FBI stumbled onto emails that indicated Petraeus was having an affair..."

How does one "stumble onto emails?" Obviously, they were pawing through someone's account. And if they can paw through someone's account, they can paw through yours.

If we're all "terrorists" they probably have enough probable cause to take a little sneak and peek into most every activists account, dontcha think?

Probable cause: "He's a Ron Paul supporter."