Missing persons' email accounts
June 26, 2013 4:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm curious as to what the protocol is for police being able to access the email accounts of someone who has gone missing. If the person has no living relatives to grant permission, can the police still access the missing person's email? How many days does someone have to be missing before the police are allowed to read their private emails?
posted by egeanin to Law & Government (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This FAQ from Google might be of interest to you (at least as applies to gmail). My understanding is that the police have to get a search warrant or a court order. In general, this means that it's at the discretion of a judge rather than there being hard and fast rules.
posted by goingonit at 4:26 PM on June 26, 2013

How do the police even know they are missing if no one reports it?

It's my vague understanding that someone "missing" is not a priority to the police unless someone presses the issue, assuming the missing person is a competent adult. Without someone pushing for resolution, who's to say the person didn't just move?

Is this a hypothetical for a story or something, or is there a real concern about a real missing person?
posted by jclarkin at 6:22 PM on June 26, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry-- it's for a story. If the person was reported missing because they stopped showing up for work, etc. I'm just curious whether the character's email would be read, and if so, how long it would take for the police to get access to it.
posted by egeanin at 6:24 PM on June 26, 2013

Read by who? If the person is noted as being absent from work and important enough to find out if they have gone missing and report that (rather than work simply assuming they have quit), someone may well have checked their work email already, if not to try and figure out if they are missing then to figure out what loose threads were left by Mr. NoShow.
posted by yohko at 7:33 PM on June 26, 2013

I think additional motivation would be needed before the police would have a reason to get a warrant.

As yohko suggests the work email angle may be more believable way for the police to get relevant email if her company is interested in her disappearence.

Sound like it could be an interesting story.
posted by jclarkin at 9:21 PM on June 26, 2013

Best answer: The standard for the issuance of a search warrant is typically a showing of probable cause that there may be evidence of a crime at the location to be searched. Most judicial officers would probably conclude that the fact that someone is missing for a period of time, without more, is insufficient.
posted by yclipse at 6:29 AM on June 27, 2013

Response by poster: Interesting-- so does this mean it's relatively easy for someone to disappear without being searched for if they have no one with a vested interest in finding them? I feel like for tax evasion reasons alone, there would be an investigation if someone went missing for more than a year.
posted by egeanin at 8:45 AM on June 27, 2013

Best answer: From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
When I was about 22 I packed up a duffle bag and started walking south. I had been employed, but didn't have any personal contacts in that city. To my knowledge I wasn't reported missing. I left all of my ID in my apartment, along with a licensed firearm. For someone who didn't know me, I doubt that they could tell the difference between leaving every worldly possesion in my apartment, and taking the few possessions I did. Come to think of it, the bathroom mirror still had "I hate you." written on it with my own blood.

I did something similar a year or so later; however I did setup forwarding of my PO box for a bit. The forwarding let me know that I got mail from my employer saying that they assumed I abandoned my position and to contact them for my last paycheck (of course, they couldn't just direct deposit that) (I think it's technically being held by the state, and potentially claimable). The note included the name of the company that they had tow my car from the lot and to contact them if I wanted the car. Apartment was similarly stocked, minus any weapons and I brought my ID this time (recovering your identity in a different state is a lot of work). This was a mid-size, 80 person company. I'd been there about 1 year.

Less than 10 years later in life, I had to get Records of no arrest for immigration to another country - I didn't have any problems, or additional follow up from either state where I disappeared, nor from the FBI clearance.

I really doubt that an employer is going to go to the police. Likely if they did that the police wouldn't look deeply at it. Similar for landlords. For police to actually really look into a missing person case of an adult, someone's going to have to be pushing really hard for this, and there's likely going to have to be some evidence that makes things look suspicious. And I don't mean suspicious in the "this is abnormal" sense (see my first disappearance), but in the "here's a ransom note." sense, or maybe a "this is more blood than someone could lose and still life" sense. There's more than enough work around for police to try and track down someone who left irregularly without saying goodbyes.
posted by jessamyn at 9:06 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

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