No E-Mail Searches Without Warrants, Federal Judge Says - InformationWeek

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No E-Mail Searches Without Warrants, Federal Judge Says

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that e-mail users have a reasonable expectation that their stored e-mail will be as private as a telephone call.

Government investigators cannot obtain and search e-mail stored by e-mail service providers unless they have a warrant, according to a new court ruling.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that e-mail users have a reasonable expectation that their stored e-mail will be as private as a telephone call. The court issued the ruling Monday.

The government has routinely obtained stored e-mail from service providers without a warrant, citing the Stored Communications Act. The court found that the practice violates the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

Steven Warshak, founder and CEO of Enzyte, a company that sells "natural male enhancement products" sued the federal government (Warshak v. United States) to stop searches and seizure of his stored e-mail.

The Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, and U.S. Postal Inspectors had claimed Warshak lacked evidence that his products worked and he lured consumers into monthly subscriptions that were difficult to cancel. U.S. Attorneys indicted him on charges of mail and wire fraud. They obtained court orders , but not search warrants, to look at Warshak's e-mail.

Warshak argued that investigators violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The federal government argued that e-mail could be read without opening anything and therefore should not be considered more private than a postcard. The government also argued that the Stored Communications Act allows investigators access to third-party material, including data stored on servers.

A court in the U.S. Southern District of Ohio ruled that SCA didn't allow the government to seize and search stored e-mail without a warrant or prior notice to the account holder. The government appealed the ruling to the 6th Circuit.

Law professors Susan Freiwald and Patricia Bellia, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed amicus briefs in the case.

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