Sixth Circuit: US government needs warrant to read your email

By on December 14, 2010, 6:00 PM
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced today that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that email is covered by the Fourth Amendment, which protects U.S. citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. The court determined that the government must obtain a warrant to access your email in a criminal investigation.

The case (U.S. v. Warshak) stems back to 2006 when criminal defendant Steven Warshak (the guy behind Enzyte) filed a civil suit against the government for warrantlessly seizing his emails. At the time, the court agreed that Warshak's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, but that decision was later vacated on procedural grounds.

In 2008, Warshak was found guilty of 93 counts of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering and received a 25-year prison sentence with a $93,000 fine. He appealed the criminal ruling, thus bringing the Fourth Amendment debate back to court. The Sixth Circuit has again concluded that a warrant is necessary for the government to read your email.

"It would defy common sense to afford emails lesser Fourth Amendment protection," the court said, comparing email to traditional mail and phone calls. "The police may not storm the post office and intercept a letter, and they are likewise forbidden from using the phone system to make a clandestine recording of a telephone call."

The EFF has trumpeted today's ruling as the "only federal appellate decision currently on the books that squarely rules on this critically important privacy issue, an issue made all the more important by the fact that current federal law -- in particular, the Stored Communications Act -- allows the government to secretly obtain emails without a warrant."

User Comments: 6

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gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

This has more effect on the ability of the gov't to enter any such e-mails as evidence in a trial, rather than their actual ability to read them.

lawfer, TechSpot Paladin, said:

What took them so long, really?

I mean, regular, paper mail IS protected by the Fourth Amendment. You can't just read my personal correspondence without a valid reason and a warrant.

The same should have, intrinsically, logically and legally applied to e-mail since, well, the "e" merely stands for electronic. The same values still apply.

This ain't rocket science, U.S. Government...

Guest said:

being equal then: Wikileaks should be able to get leaked documents from any source. ;)

Guest said:

good point first guess

Guest said:

So now they will read your emails first to see if they need to get a warrant.

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