U.S. Court Rules Warrants Needed to Spy on Emails
Thursday, December 16, 2010
If the government wants to see your emails stored by an Internet service provider, they first will have to get a warrant. The government used to skip getting a warrant, based on a 1986 law, the Stored Communications Act, granting such power. But a ruling on December 14 by a federal appeals court has nullified the 1986 statute and federal attorneys now will have to seek out a judge and demonstrate probable cause before obtaining a warrant for email searches.
“The government may not compel a commercial ISP to turn over the contents of a subscriber’s e-mails without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause,” wrote the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case U.S. v. Warshak.
This is the first time that a federal court has extended Fourth Amendment rights to email communications.
That case centered on Steven Warshak, founder of an Ohio herbal-supplement company that marketed male-enhancement pills. As part of a fraud investigation, the government obtained thousands of his emails from his ISP without a warrant—which led to the appellate decision after Warshak challenged his conviction.
Warrant Needed to Get Your E-Mail, Appeals Court Says (by David Kravets, Wired)
Breaking News on EFF Victory: Appeals Court Holds that Email Privacy Protected by Fourth Amendment (by Kevin Bankston, Electronic Frontier Foundation)
United States v. Steven Warshak (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)
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