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Court rules e-mail protected by Fourth Amendment

updated 04:30 pm EST, Tue December 14, 2010

Court says e-mail privacy guarded by 4th Amendment

A US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that e-mail was legally protected by the Fourth Amendment. It determined in a 3-0 vote that e-mail was similar to traditional communication and thus that the government still needed a search warrant to intercept and read e-mail. Users still had a reasonable expectation of privacy online, the court said.

"Given the fundamental similarities between email and traditional forms of communication, it would defy common sense to afford emails lesser Fourth Amendment protection," the decision published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation read. "It follows that email requires strong protection under the Fourth Amendment; otherwise the Fourth Amendment would prove an ineffective guardian of private communication, an essential purpose it has long been recognized to serve... [T]he 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--unless they get a warrant, that is."

The verdict effectively overturns the conviction of the appellant, Stephen Warshak, by rendering the evidence invalid. Department of Justice officials had asked Warshak's e-mail provider to monitor and intercept his e-mail even before it was sent. The EFF and advocates had filed a brief claiming that this amounted to an illegal wiretap. DOJ agents had used the Stored Communications Act to justify the move, but the rule by definition only applied to e-mail that had already been stored locally, not any message.

Applying the Fourth Amendment sets the first legal precedent of its sort and could prevent the government from any further attempts to snoop civilian e-mail without a warrant.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. chas_m

    Moderator

    Joined: Aug 2001

    +2

    Well ...

    "Applying the Fourth Amendment sets the first legal precedent of its sort and could prevent the government from any further attempts to snoop civilian e-mail without a warrant."

    Unless they shut it down secretly after the Obama administration was sworn in (which is entirely possible), I haven't read that the "secret" and illegal interception of ALL emails and phone calls in the US has been stopped, and I doubt a pesky court decision will stop them either.

    But its still a blow to the out-of-control authoritarian zealots in the US that fundamentally do NOT believe in the core principles of the Constitution, so it's certainly good news.

  1. Bobfozz

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jul 2008

    -8

    Sounds like...

    The defendant was up to no good. There should be a way of "parsing" these laws. When caught those are the first to pull the "government harassment card." Why doesn't this article (?) give more details?

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    +1

    Re: Well

    Unless they shut it down secretly after the Obama administration was sworn in (which is entirely possible), I haven't read that the "secret" and illegal interception of ALL emails and phone calls in the US has been stopped, and I doubt a pesky court decision will stop them either.

    This is under the assumption that the Bush administration put in a secret system to illegally intercept all emails and phone calls.

    Come on, this is the US. They were republicans. You know, constitution first, people first. They believe so strongly in the rights granted by the constitution the freedom of speech that they believe anyone should be able to give as much money as possible to their campaign coffers without having to reveal who they are.

    They would never snoop on their own people like that! That's something a fascist like Obama would come up with!

    But its still a blow to the out-of-control authoritarian zealots in the US that fundamentally do NOT believe in the core principles of the Constitution, so it's certainly good news.

    The only blow here is that the email can't be used in the case. The secret email reading system of the NSA isn't being used to find and convict people. They're using them to find suspected hooligans (can't call them anything intelligent like 'terrorists', since it would take an idiot to plot out an attack in an open email system). After that, they're tail, poke, prod, snoop, until they find reason for 'probable cause', after which they can then get the FSA court to issue a secret warrant to allow them to implant bugs and spyware on their computers, get their internet records, and do all other sorts of 'legal' investigative techniques, all the while it being a federal crime for anyone to inform the suspect of such a warrant, let alone make it publicly known that such a warrant even exists.

    So it won't hurt them at all.

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