Government Needs Warrant To Secretly Read Emails, Court Rules

L6_pc_spyingI’m confused — you’re telling me that the Constitution doesn’t grant the government the right to peruse our emails as desired? Via Gizmodo:

The government must obtain a court warrant to require internet service providers to turn over stored e-mail to the authorities, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the first time an appellate court said Americans had that Fourth Amendment protection.

“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” (.pdf), the appeals court ruled. The decision—one stop short of the Supreme Court—covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Kevin Bankston, a privacy attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, applauded the decision.

“I expect e-mail providers across the country will comply with this,” he said in a telephone interview.

The legal brouhaha centered on Steven Warshak, founder of an Ohio herbal-supplement company that marketed male-enhancement tablets. As part of a fraud investigation, the government obtained thousands of his e-mails from his ISP without a warrant.

He appealed his 25-year conviction on those and other grounds, and the circuit court tossed his sentence on issues unrelated to the court’s language concerning e-mail privacy.

At issue in Warshak’s e-mail flap was a 1986 law that allows the government to obtain a suspect’s e-mail from an internet service provider or webmail provider without a probable-cause warrant, once it’s been stored for 180 days or more. The appeals court said Tuesday that this part of the Stored Communications Act is unconstitutional.

“The Fourth Amendment must keep pace with the inexorable march of technological progress, or its guarantees will wither and perish,” the court ruled.

The Stored Communications Act was enacted at a time when e-mail generally wasn’t stored on servers at all, but instead passed through them briefly on their way to the recipient’s inbox. In today’s reality, e-mail can, and is, being stored on servers forever. A consortium of businesses, including Google and Microsoft, recently asked Congress to update the law and require probable cause to obtain any e-mail.

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  • http://www.smashedbottle.com/ sebastian

    Not that it matters. The united states isn’t a lawful country. Does anyone really believe this will make the government stop spying on us?

    • Haystack

      I use an encrypted E-mail service.

  • http://www.smashedbottle.com/ sebastian

    Not that it matters. The united states isn’t a lawful country. Does anyone really believe this will make the government stop spying on us?

  • Hadrian999

    so if you find out they are secretly reading your e-mail and they don’t invoke sovereign immunity you git em….

  • Hadrian999

    so if you find out they are secretly reading your e-mail and they don’t invoke sovereign immunity you git em….

  • DeepCough

    Has anyone told Homeland Secuirty or the NSA this news? Because it would behoove them to know, methinks.

  • DeepCough

    Has anyone told Homeland Secuirty or the NSA this news? Because it would behoove them to know, methinks.

  • Haystack

    I use an encrypted E-mail service.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Not that I expect anyone to obey that rule over at NSA HQ or Quantico…but at least it hits on the one major objection I have to warrantless wiretapping…the absence of a paper trail.

    Accountability starts with a record of actions taken…which is why the push from the agencies has always been to reduce the number of records created during their actions and to make secret those documents that do crop up…thus rendering any attempt to hold them to account a wasted effort. Any person, conservative or liberal, Dem or Rep, whatever their stripe, should at least be concerned with the notion of law enforcement powers being untraceable, answerable to no one, and essentially immune to scrutiny. Whether the information is virtual, like email, or physical, like snail mail or telephones/cell phone data…the principle is identical: It’s acceptable if you snoop to fight terrorism…we just expect you to make a record of it and answer for the actions you take.

    The fact that the administrative objections to even that tiny shred of scrutiny have been so strong…tells us volumes about the intent to abuse any powers granted to law enforcement, and the desire to avoid responsibility for any wrong doings that may come of those abuses.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Not that I expect anyone to obey that rule over at NSA HQ or Quantico…but at least it hits on the one major objection I have to warrantless wiretapping…the absence of a paper trail.

    Accountability starts with a record of actions taken…which is why the push from the agencies has always been to reduce the number of records created during their actions and to make secret those documents that do crop up…thus rendering any attempt to hold them to account a wasted effort. Any person, conservative or liberal, Dem or Rep, whatever their stripe, should at least be concerned with the notion of law enforcement powers being untraceable, answerable to no one, and essentially immune to scrutiny. Whether the information is virtual, like email, or physical, like snail mail or telephones/cell phone data…the principle is identical: It’s acceptable if you snoop to fight terrorism…we just expect you to make a record of it and answer for the actions you take.

    The fact that the administrative objections to even that tiny shred of scrutiny have been so strong…tells us volumes about the intent to abuse any powers granted to law enforcement, and the desire to avoid responsibility for any wrong doings that may come of those abuses.

  • Marklar_Prime

    So, they can assasinate you or lock you in a deep dark hole for life on a whim but they need a court order to read your email. I feel so much safer now.

  • http://twitter.com/Marklar_Prime Marklar Kronkite

    So, they can assasinate you or lock you in a deep dark hole for life on a whim but they need a court order to read your email. I feel so much safer now.