Do you think of your email messages as your private property? They might be. It really depends on how old they are.
The reality is that police officers can read your emails without a warrant if they’re more than 180 days old. Various bills have been introduced to put an end to this, but none of them have managed to pass both the House and the Senate.
Isn’t this incredibly invasive?
Yes, this is widely viewed as an invasion of privacy. The reason that it happened is simply because the law governing how data could be used was written in 1986. That was almost 40 years ago. It’s safe to say that tech in 2023 is nothing like tech in 1986.
At the time, the law was passed for a multitude of reasons. For one thing, less than 15% of people in the United States had a computer at their house. It just wasn’t common, and so most people were almost never using email messages anyway. Some considered the internet to be a passing fad.
Additionally, storage space on these old computers was incredibly small. Many people would delete their emails periodically just to save space. The idea of saving messages for half a year seemed like a pointless waste of space anyway.
Finally, cloud computing didn’t exist. In other words, no one ever thought that a company like Google would create a service like Gmail, which could store billions of email messages for years on end. But that’s where society is now, which is why this 40-year-old law now feels like a massive invasion of privacy.
Unfortunately, laws still have power when they’re on the books, even if they are obviously outdated. Those who are facing criminal charges need to know exactly how these laws work and what options they have.