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BizReport : Law & Regulation : December 01, 2006

Email Covered by 4th Amendment

A court has decided that the government’s ability to search and seize email content from service providers is in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

by Helen Leggatt

The federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) allows secret, warrantless searches and seizures of email stored with providers.

The announcement was made the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organization defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights across digital platforms.

The decision was regarding Warshak vs. U.S., filed by Steven Warshak who sought to stop the government from secretly searching and seizing his stored email. The court ruled that government must obtain a search warrant.

"Email users clearly expect that their inboxes are private, but the government argues the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect emails at all when they are stored with an ISP or a webmail provider like Hotmail or Gmail," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston.

"EFF disagrees. We think that the Fourth Amendment applies online just as strongly as it does offline, and that your email should be as safe against government intrusion as your phone calls, postal mail, or the private papers you keep in your home."

The full brief can be accessed here.

Tags: EFF, email, ISP, privacy

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