The Sixth Circuit United States Court of Appeals, Tuesday, ruled that e-mail is legally protected by the Fourth Amendment. It determined in a 3-0 vote that users still had a reasonable expectation of privacy online, that e-mail was similar to traditional communication and thus that the government still needed a search warrant to intercept and read e-mail.
The Court stated:
Given the fundamental similarities between email and traditional forms of communication [like postal mail and telephone calls], it would defy common sense to afford emails lesser Fourth Amendment protection…. 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. It only stands to reason that, if government agents compel an ISP to surrender the contents of a subscriber’s emails, those agents have thereby conducted a Fourth Amendment search, which necessitates compliance with the warrant requirement….
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.