Email Safe From Government Searches

    June 19, 2007

For supporters of the Fourth Amendment Monday was a good day. In a landmark ruling the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the government must have a search warrant before it can covertly seize and search emails stored by email service providers.

Email Safe From Government Searches
“Email Safe From Government Searches”
Email Safe From Government Searches

The court found that email users have the same degree of privacy in their stored email as they do in telephone calls.

The government has used the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) for the last 20 years to secretly obtain stored email from email service providers without a warrant. The courts ruling 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 Electronic Frontier Foundation 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 secret searchers and seizures of his stored email using the SCA. The district court ruled that the government cannot use the SCA to gather stored email without a warrant or notice to the email account holder; the government appealed that ruling to the 6th Circuit.