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DOJ To Congress: We Shouldn’t Need A Warrant To Snoop Through Gmail

For years, privacy advocacy groups have been trying to make sure digital data has the same kinds of search and seizure protections that physical documents have. In recent times, even some major companies like Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and AT&T (NYSE: T) have joined together in the Digital Due Process coalition, which wants to modernize the nation’s out-of-date wiretapping laws. Those corporations want law enforcement agents to get a warrant issued by a judge before they are able to tap into sources of data stored in the cloud, such as web email. It’s been an uphill fight-to say the least-and today, the Department of Justice took a position that’s going to make their quest even harder.

According to a report from CNET, a DOJ lawyer told a Senate committee that if cops are required to get a search warrant to tap into email stored online, it could have an “adverse impact” on investigations. “Speed is essential,” he said. “If Congress slows down the process, this would have real-life consequences, particularly where human life is involved.”

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), seemed sympathetic to the DOJ position, saying that requiring warrants every time a cop needs to get emails as part of an investigation could be burdensome on courts.

The Digital Due Process coalition also wants a warrant to be required when cops try to get location information for a cell phone. The DOJ took a position that less-accurate location data gathered from cell phone towers should be available without a warrant, which should only be required for more precise geolocation data, such as data gathered from a smartphone’s GPS capability.

The main federal wiretapping law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, hasn’t been updated since 1986.