What do bogus "male enhancement" pills and privacy under the 4th Amendment have in common? The question may be confusing, but it's not a trick.
According to a ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Enzyte mogul Steve Warshak's privacy was violated when investigators searched his email without a warrant. It was a potentially helpful ruling for Warshak, who had been convicted of fraud, money-laundering and conspiracy and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
This is the first time that a court has declared that email, and the anyone who uses it, does in fact have a reasonable expectation of privacy in its contents under 4th Amendment. That means that the government must first have probable cause and obtain a warrant before an ISP can be forced to turn over email communications.
The 6th Circuit found that under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it is illegal to search or seize property without probable cause or a warrant. It is important to note that this decision is not necessarily the last word on email search and seizure. The case may very well eventually wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
"[I]t would defy common sense to afford e-mails lesser Fourth Amendment protection ... E-mail is the technological scion of tangible mail, and it plays an indispensable part in the Information Age," said Judge Danny Boggs writing for the majority, the Cincinnati Inquirer reports.
"It's an important decision ... more and more of us rely on technology in everything we do ... It's a primary means of communication for so many people. People expect that to be private," said Carrie Davis, staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
So it's all good for Warshak then, right? Not exactly.
Despite the arguments of his attorney, the court ruled that the email evidence was still admissible against him. The court found that because the search and seizure was conducted in good faith, the evidence was still admissible under the Stored Communications Act. However, the court did send the case back to a lower court for re-sentencing.
So, at least for now, your email privacy rights are a bit stronger. But you're still advised to carefully consider anything you send, as this decision could wind up being overturned.