Is the NSA Seizing E-Mails When It Copies Them?

Dan Eble raises an interesting point. My use of the word “seizure” he suggests may be incorrect. When the NSA copies your e-mails, is it seizing something or do the arguments against intellectual property apply so that they are seizing nothing?

I may not have the language just right, or it may be a gray area. They are gaining a copy of something that is your right to keep private, and in that sense they are gaining your property. The property is not in the physical or electronic matter, because otherwise a copy wouldn’t be the correct word. The property is in something else. Exactly what? Suppose an authority in the old days entered your home or a storage facility that you used and made a photo or a xerox of a private letter of yours. There’d be a trespass followed by a theft of some sort. Exactly what? It’s something attaching to your person as a belonging. It’s property, but what kind? It’s your private thoughts or those relating to you through business or someone else that you’ve transferred to a medium. I’d say that communications that are meant to be private are property. Property entails boundaries and exclusive use. Some communications are property and some are not. If hacking someone’s e-mail or accounts is trespassing and theft, then the government is engaged in gigantic hacking, only it does it right from the source through the companies like Verizon and ISPs.

The online law dictionary uses the phrase (under seizure) of “property or communications”.


9:10 am on August 7, 2013