Email privacy: What you need to know

(CBS News) Your email messages may not be as private as you think.

CNET editor-at-large Brian Cooley explained on "CBS This Morning" that, "Email is highly transparent. We think it's this secret thing that just goes from me to you over a private pipeline. It does not. It's like this giant letter carrier's bag that we have access to depending what kind of authority you are or what kind of access you have to someone's account."

He also said, "You've got to think about it as something you need to be comfortable with anyone glancing at and being able to read."

The web-based email accounts popular with many email users, such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, do not store emails in your computer, but rather on the company's servers. "Those kind of services don't have you install a program like we used to, like Outlook, for example, and they basically don't keep the e-mail on your machine. ... That means even your drafts are stored at Google or Yahoo. That's why you can go to any computer and there they are."

Access to your accounts can also be given to the government, according to Cooley. "Dating back to the mid-'90s, there's kind of an odd piece of legislation out there that's a little bit strange. If the e-mail is more than six months old, a federal prosecutor can request it without having to have a full judge's sanction on a subpoena. If it's newer email, under six months, then that requires what most of us expect which is a judge's order which would be at a higher standard. ... But e-mail is one of the most highly discoverable and requested pieces of information out there in modern legislation."

For more with Cooley on email privacy, watch the video above.

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