Sunday, August 2, 2015

Next time they just may take your email! Part 1

In September of 2014 lawyers representing the City of Houston subpoenaed local pastors to provide documents related to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. On page 11 of the subpoena, the definitions and instructions are explained. The third bullet point includes the following.

”The terms include, but are not limited to, emails, instant messages, text messages,…”

After protest, meetings and discussions involving people with different thoughts of the legislation the subpoena request was cancelled. However, the topic of this particular blog is not to discuss the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. My focus will be on email message encryption, why it is important and how it affects you.

In the Stored Wire and Electronic Communications and Transactional Records Access section 2703 it states the following in sections A and B.

"(a) Contents of Wire or Electronic Communications in Electronic Storage.— A governmental entity may require the disclosure by a provider of electronic communication service of the contents of a wire or electronic communication, that is in electronic storage in an electronic communications system for one hundred and eighty days or less, only pursuant to a warrant issued using the procedures described in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (or, in the case of a State court, issued using State warrant procedures) by a court of competent jurisdiction. A governmental entity may require the disclosure by a provider of electronic communications services of the contents of a wire or electronic communication that has been in electronic storage in an electronic communications system for more than one hundred and eighty days by the means available under subsection (b) of this section.

b) Contents of Wire or Electronic Communications in a Remote Computing Service.
(1) A governmental entity may require a provider of remote computing service to disclose the contents of any wire or electronic communication to which this paragraph is made applicable by paragraph (2) of this subsection—
(A) without required notice to the subscriber or customer, if the governmental entity obtains a warrant issued using the procedures described in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (or, in the case of a State court, issued using State warrant procedures) by a court of competent jurisdiction; or
(B) with prior notice from the governmental entity to the subscriber or customer if the governmental entity—
(i) uses an administrative subpoena authorized by a Federal or State statute or a Federal or State grand jury or trial subpoena; or
(ii) obtains a court order for such disclosure under subsection (d) of this section;
except that delayed notice may be given pursuant to section 2705 of this title.”

Simply put, if your email is over 180 days old and it is still available on the server, all the government needs is to issue a subpoena. With a warrant the standard of probable cause needs to be met. Also, a judge is needed to issue a warrant. These requirements may not need to be met in regards to a subpoena.    

Encrypting your email messages is important because it helps protect your right to privacy. This is done by making your email messages difficult to read by unwanted users. Even if the government or an unwanted third party were to access your messages they would need to have access to the key needed to decrypt the messages.

A brute force attack can be performed to decrypt the message so it is very important that the strongest encryption is used. With today’s technology it would take many years to decrypt a message that uses strong encryption. The more encrypted messages that you send and receive the better the system will work. 

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” It is wise to learn how to properly use these tools. In part two of this article we will discuss the usage of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and how it works to help protect your privacy.
  

References:

Subpoena by the City of Houston
http://www.adfmedia.org/files/WoodfillSubpoenaRequest.pdf

Stored Wire and Electronic Communications and Transactional Records Access section 2703
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2703