Holder backs warrant rule for most email searches

Sometimes the simple questions are the trickiest for political figures.

Such seemed the case Wednesday when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder went in front of the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about recent investigations.

Among the hot topics was the recent revelations of his department’s probe of reporter phone records.

In time the conversation evolved into how far the DOJ can go in snagging emails and other forms of digital communications. He expressed a willingness to tighten federal law by requiring a warrant to search a person’s emails or online communications in most cases.

But it didn’t come without a bit of hemming on his part.

“Do you believe government has a right to obtain emails without a warrant?” asked Washington Democratic Congresswoman Suzan DelBene.

Holder started to answer, paused, gathered himself, snuck a look at notes handed him by an aide and eventually acknowledged it’s a “question we wrestle with.”

DelBene then held up a letter she received through the mail and noted the FBI would need a warrant to get it from her but not if it had been an email. That led her to ask Holder if he would back legislation she’s co-sponsored to update the nation’s 27-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act. A similar version is moving through the Senate.

He said it seemed like something the DOJ would support though he said Congress should provide exemptions in “certain very limited circumstances” such as civil investigations.

“But the more general notion of having a warrant to obtain the content of communications from a service provider is something that we support,” Holder said.

You can watch the entire hearing here.

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