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Exceptions for Government Authorities

The ECPA governs law enforcement access to private electronic communication. This statutory privacy is not absolute; however, the law recognizes that law enforcement must be able to conduct its work. But the government’s power to have access to electronic communication unlimited. Like protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the law spells out limits upon government intrusion in this area of private life.

Government agents must take specific steps before intercepting communication over the Internet, gaining access to stored communication, or obtaining subscriber information such as account records and network logs from Internet service providers. Generally, they must issue subpoenas or seek and execute court orders such as search warrants. Greater degrees of invasiveness require court authority. Thus investigators can subpoena basic subscriber information, but they must obtain a search warrant for examination of the full content of an account.

An additional exception is created for employees or agents of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). They may intercept or disclose communications in the normal course of employment duties or in discharging the FCC’s federal monitoring responsibilities spelled out in Chapter 5 of Title 47 of the United States Code.

Inside Exceptions for Government Authorities