After many years of legal uncertainty, a federal appeals court has finally declared that emails have the same Fourth Amendment protections as regular mail and telephone calls.
“Given the fundamental similarities between email and traditional forms of communication, it would defy common sense to afford emails lesser Fourth Amendment protection,” the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF).
If the ruling is not overturned by the Supreme Court, it will put an end to the practice of law enforcement agents using court orders, rather than warrants, to gain access to emails. Court orders require a much lower standard than warrants.
Kevin Bankston of the digital rights group EFF told Wired.com he expects Internet service providers will comply with the ruling, meaning they will start requesting warrants when law enforcement requests access to emails.
Privacy advocates say law enforcement has been using a loophole in the 1986 Stored Communications Act to get emails without a warrant. Under that law, information stored on servers is subject only to a court order.
As Wired notes, the law was written at a time when emails — then still a novelty — weren’t stored on remote servers. But today’s email services, such as Hotmail and Gmail, use servers to store all emails, giving law enforcement warrantless access.
A group of businesses, including Microsoft, Google and AOL, have been lobbying the US to update its laws so that all emails require a warrant.
At issue in the Sixth Circuit’s ruling was the criminal case of Steven Warshak, founder of the company that sells Enzyte “male enhancement” pills. Warshak was given a 25-year sentence in 2008 after being convicted of 93 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.
Warshak appealed the ruling, saying his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when investigators failed to obtain a warrant for his emails. In its ruling Tuesday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Warshak and effectively declared parts of the Stored Communications Act to be unconstitutional.
However, the court also said that law enforcement agents “acted in good faith” in using the Stored Communications Act to obtain the emails, so it will not vacate Warshak’s conviction. ZDNet reports that he may see a lesser sentence as a result.
“Today’s decision is the only federal appellate decision currently on the books that squarely rules on this critically important privacy issue, an issue made all the more important by the fact that current federal law … allows the government to secretly obtain emails without a warrant in many situations,” the EFF said in a statement.
“We hope that this ruling will spur Congress to update that law … so that when the government secretly demands someone’s email without probable cause, the email provider can confidently say: ‘Come back with a warrant.'”
Georgia Republicans turn on Gov. Brian Kemp: He ‘will be primaried’
Georgia Republicans were already unhappy with Gov. Brian Kemp, and his refusal to interfere in President Donald Trump's election loss may have been the last straw.
Trump claims credit for Kemp's election win two years ago, but he and other Republicans have withdrawn their support after the governor has declined to get involved in the president's efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden in Georgia and other states, reported The Daily Beast.
“[Kemp] will be primaried," said Kay Godwin, the chair of the Pierce County GOP. "Just hoping and praying we get the right one this time.”
Georgia secretary of state: ‘There are those that are exploiting the emotions of many Trump supporters’
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger warned on Monday that outside groups are trying to take advantage of the "emotions" of President Donald Trump's supporters with false information about the recent and upcoming elections.
"There are those that are exploiting the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths, misinformation and, frankly, they are misleading the president as well," Raffensperger explained at a Monday press conference.
The Georgia official went on to announce investigations into over 250 claims of election irregularities.
"Upholding the law matters, truth matters, and your vote matters," he insisted. "Anyone telling you to boycott an election is not on your side. You're right to vote is sacred. Don't let someone con you out of it."
The GOP has become the mouthpiece for whatever Fox News ‘propagandists’ want: ex-Ted Cruz aide
In her column for the conservative Bulwark, the former speechwriter for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) explained that once upon a time, the Fox News network and its primetime hosts were cheerleaders for Republican lawmakers but now they call the shots knowing they can make or break conservative politicians by offering or withholding access to the network.
According to Amanda Carpenter, the symbiotic bond between GOP lawmakers and the popular conservative news network resembles the creepy relationship between a parasite and its host.