Saved Email Safe From Unwarranted Police Eyes


Searching stored emails does require a warrant, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Monday. From an Electronic Frontier Foundation press release:

Over the last 20 years, the government has routinely used the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) to secretly obtain stored email from email service providers without a warrant. But today's ruling—closely following the reasoning in an amicus brief filed the by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other civil liberties groups—found that the SCA violates the Fourth Amendment.

"Email users expect that their Hotmail and Gmail inboxes are just as private as their postal mail and their telephone calls," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "The government tried to get around this common-sense conclusion, but the Constitution applies online as well as offline, as the court correctly found. That means that the government can't secretly seize your emails without a warrant."

Warshak v. United States was brought in the Southern District of Ohio federal court by Steven Warshak to stop the government's repeated secret searches and seizures of his stored email using the SCA. The district court ruled that the government cannot use the SCA to obtain stored email without a warrant or prior notice to the email account holder, but the government appealed that ruling to the 6th Circuit.

The full decision.

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  1. Steven Warshak is a fucking scumbag, and I’m glad his constitutional rights were upheld by the court.

  2. “found that the SCA violates the Fourth Amendment”

    Zounds! Milords, the Authenticity Police appears to observe only pre-Magna Carta privileges! To Arms!

  3. Steven Warshak is a fucking scumbag, and I’m glad his constitutional rights were upheld by the court.

    If this is the same Steve Warshak I just googled (Berkley Premium Nutraceuticals) Your right. I think he’s a thief. Alas, he is STILL entitled constitutioal protections.

  4. this is good news!

    hooray for good news.

  5. Can someone explain to me why the government thought that electronic mail is any different than postal mail, in terms of needing a warrant?

    I’m not asking for anyone to defend the government, but rather explain what pretense they were operating under.

  6. S.A. Miller:

    According to the PDF linked above, the government argued that Warshak’s ISP (Yahoo!) has a clause in its terms of service that says it’s allowed to read customers’ emails under certain circumstances (including to assist law enforcement). Supposedly, this means that he had no expectation of privacy, since a great many ISP employees are permitted read his email without his knowledge.

    The EFF responds (and The Court agrees) that phone company employees have the potential to listen in on phone calls without our knowledge, but that doesn’t eliminate our expectation of privacy.

    There’s more (the PDF is 20 pages long, and I didn’t read it all), but that seems to be main difference between ISPs and the USPS that the government was highlighting.

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