The Privacy Of Email

A Federal Appeals Court in Ohio has issued a ruling that broadly expands the privacy protections given to electronic mail stored on internet servers:

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) — A U.S. appeals court in Ohio has ruled that e-mail messages stored on Internet servers are protected by the Constitution as are telephone conversations and that a federal law permitting warrantless secret searches of e-mail violates the Fourth Amendment.


An Ohio man whose e-mail was searched after his Internet service provider was ordered to turn it over to federal investigators and not tell him about it sought and won an injunction against the government last year in U.S. District Court. On Monday, that injunction was upheld by the 6th Circuit Appeals Court.

‘The District Court correctly determined that e-mail users maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of their e-mails,’ ruled the three-judge panel.

They held that the 1986 Stored Communications Act, which allows the government to obtain an ex-parte order requiring ISPs to turn over e-mail stored on their servers, violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizures.

Ex-parte orders are those issued by the courts at the government`s request without any opportunity for the subject of the order to contest them.

The court ruled that there was a difference between the so-called meta-data stored by the ISP about each e-mail — the addressee, time of transmission and so forth — and the content of the e-mail message itself.

The distinction, the court held, was analogous to that between the so-called pen register information about phone calls like the number dialed, or the time and length of the call, and the actual phone conversation itself

What this means if the Court’s decision stands is that the Government can no longer simply gain access to stored email without having to  show that there is probable cause to believe that the information sought contains evidence of a crime and without giving the subject of the search the right to challenge the validity of the search.

All in all, a good ruling.

  • qxe

    Funny how this ruling slips through just when the RNC has a little problem with some emails that they don’t want ANYBODY to see… maybe when they get their email destroying ducks in a row, this ruling will get overturned so they can go back to business as usual. The business of gaining power over everyone in the U.S>, and exempting themselves from scrutiny.

  • Ted

    You have no idea how happy this ruling makes me. Hehehe. I am giddy.