Laws Of .com

Court Upholds Injunction Against Warrantless Email Seizures

On June 18, 2007, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction against secret warrantless seizures of email. This case was brought by Steven Warshak to stop the government's repeated secret searches and seizures of his stored email from his ISPs (Internet Service Providers) under the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA). In a landmark ruling, the district court held that the SCA violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing secret, warrantless searches and seizures of email stored with a third party.

The court compared email communications to telephone communications, citing the Katz and Miller decisions, citing the Fourth Amendment protection of the content of the communication (as opposed to records of communication), despite the use of intermediaries (telephone companies, post offices, and ISPs) to effect the communication. The court noted, however, that it is possible for a user to waive their Fourth amendment rights upon accessing a computer network and accordingly modified the proposed injunction for remand. On this point, the court reiterated that standard virus screening, spam blocking and similar processes do not amount to a waiver of the user's expectation of privacy.

For a copy of the decision, visit:

Warshak v. USA