Civil Liberties on the Internet

Civil Liberties on the InternetThe virtual world of the internet is deeply involved in the public debate about the right to privacy vs. the government’s right to access data. That debate is fueled by sometimes conflicting decisions and has energized organizations dedicated to defending privacy online.

One debatable point is the broadness of warrants granting investigators sweeping access to e-mail and allowing those investigators to determine which e-mails are relevant to the investigation. Judges are issuing conflicting decisions about whether those warrants are proper or overly broad. On July 18, 2014 a federal magistrate granted a warrant allowing access to a Gmail user’s e-mails and account information – with no restrictions on the nature or duration of the review – for a criminal probe of possible money laundering. The judge maintains the law allows investigators to examine large quantities of documents to decide which are covered by warrants. This decision contradicts a 2013 decision by another judge who denied applications for warrants granting access to e-mails and account information from Google, Yahoo!, Skype, Go Daddy and Verizon for a criminal investigation because the warrants would be overly broad. Another denial of a warrant application as overly broad came in April 2014 when another judge denied an application for e-mail from a defense contractor’s Apple account in an investigation of kickbacks. Meanwhile, several U. S. appeals courts have denied motions to suppress these types of searches. Then again, in April 2014 another federal judge ordered Microsoft to turn over a customer’s e-mails and account information stored in a Dublin, Ireland data center after receipt of a valid search warrant from U. S. law enforcement.

Internet service providers are highly interested in the debate, of course. Microsoft is appealing the April 2014 decision and supporting briefs have been filed by Verizon, Apple, Cisco Systems and AT&T. Microsoft’s appeal also is supported by “Electronic Frontier Foundation” (EFF), a nonprofit organization founded in 1990 to defend “privacy, free expression, and innovation” on the internet. EFF offers help here – via lawsuits and otherwise – to individuals and groups who believe their civil liberties are being threatened by surveillance.


DON’T be lulled into an expectation of privacy for e-mails and account information online.

DO be aware that government officials are sometimes requesting sweeping warrants for e-mails and account information in their investigations.

DO be aware that conflicting decisions are being issued regarding online privacy vs. the government’s right to access information.

DO visit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) here for assistance and information if you believe your civil liberties are being threatened by online surveillance.

By Kathy Catanzarite

Source: Kathy Catanzarite – Staff Writer

Note from This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author,, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.