Corporate Compliance

Court rules e-mail is private under fourth amendment

Compliance Monitor, June 27, 2007

A federal appeals court has ruled that law enforcement officials cannot search e-mail without a warrant, the Associated Press reports. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed a lower court's ruling that temporarily prohibited officials from searching Internet service providers' email storage. This important decision protects e-mail under the Fourth Amendment, which already protects telephone calls and other forms of communication.

Prior to this ruling, wiretapping laws have only protected e-mails in transit. However, the lower court deduced that e-mails "were roughly analogous to sealed letters, in which the sender maintains an expectation of privacy." The appeals court unanimously agreed.

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