E-Mails Given Protection Under 4th Amendment

Post date: Dec 15, 2010 4:51:47 PM

In a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, e-mails have been determined to be covered under the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The upshot of this holding is that now e-mails cannot be "searched" or "seized" without obtaining a warrant. Although this is not directly applicable to Missouri -- which is part of the 8th Circuit -- this holding will be considered persuasive by other courts. It is also possible that this case could make its way to the Supremes at some point. Here is the most important holding from the 98 page opinion (found here):

"[email user] enjoyed a reasonable expectation of privacy in his emails vis-a-vis...his Internet Service Provider...Thus, government agents violated his Fourth Amendment rights by compelling [his Internet Service Provider] to turn over the emails without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause."

This is great news. In the past, emails could be obtained under the Stored Communications Act if they had been stored for over 180 days, essentially meaning that virtually every email you send could be collected and used against you sooner or later. Now -- assuming this ruling stands and is adopted by other courts -- anyone wanting to obtain your emails must jump through all of the legal hoops to receive a search warrant (i.e., probable cause).

Source: Wired

Hat tip: reader CJM