Judges Rule E-mails Are Private

A U.S. federal court ruled yesterday that law enforcement agents must obtain a warrant to seize private e-mails, much like warrants must be obtained to listen in on private telephone conversations, according to an Associated Press report.

From the article:

The ruling stems from a fraud investigation against Steven Warshak, owner and president of Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, an herbal supplement company known for its "Smiling Bob" ads.

Warshak, whose company markets supplements that include a "natural male enhancement" product called Enzyte, argued that his Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated when the government went after his e-mail records.

The appeals court said the lower court correctly reasoned that e-mails stored at a service provider "were roughly analogous to sealed letters, in which the sender maintains an expectation of privacy. This privacy interest requires that law enforcement officials obtain a warrant, based on a showing of probable cause."

National Public Radio's Morning Edition reported on the ruling, calling it a "very significant case."