Feds Can Monitor Personal E-Mail Sent Privately to Gov’t Workers, DOJ Says
Posted Sep 21, 2009 11:43 AM CDT
By Martha Neil
You might think that a private-mail sent to another U.S. citizen's personal account isn't subject to government monitoring. But that assumption could be wrong if the recipient is a federal government employee.
Both recipients and senders have no reasonable expectation of privacy if an e-mail is opened by a federal employee logged into a work computer network, according to an Aug. 14 legal opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice that was released Friday. It says that the one-party consent rule in the Wiretap Act of 1968 authorizes such e-mail monitoring, because the government worker is deemed to have consented, reports the Washington Post.
"A person communicating with another assumes the risk that the person has agreed to permit the government to monitor the contents of that communication," writes acting assistant attorney general David Barron of the Office of Legal Counsel in the memo (PDF).
Because federal workers are notified when they log into their government computers that the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring them for malicious intrusions, that satisfies the one-party consent requirement, according to the Post.
In reaching this conclusion, the Aug. 14 opinion relies on a Jan. 9 opinion (PDF). It, too, was released Friday.