The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the US Government must have a valid search warrant before accessing your email files. In the case of the US v. Warshak, the court’s ruling stated that email is provided “strong protection under the Fourth Amendment,” and that law enforcement officials cannot demand a service provider (ISP) to give up your personal email’s with a court order. This, according toArs Technica.
Steven Warshak, founder of Enzyte (natural male enhancement) who fell under FTC jurisdiction when there were public complaints that Enzyte didn’t work. To make matters more complicated, Warshak’s company was enrolling callers in a monthly trial that was nearly impossible to cancel. Following the FTC’s investigation, the FBI and USPS inspectors began an investigation into mail and wire fraud reportedly committed by Enzyte. These investigations took place in 2006 and early 2007.
Federal officials requested, and obtained access into Warshak’s email account based upon a court order. Court orders are less stringent on requirements for a burden of proof than a search warrant. Warshak claimed that his 4th Amendment rights had been violated, and the Sixth District Court ruled in the civil case that email is protected under the Amendment and that court orders don’t carry the necessary legal weight to search email accounts.
This week’s decision addresses the criminal case, also in the Sixth District. Warshak was tried, and convicted, for 93 counts of money laundering, fraud via the mails, and conspiracy; he was sentenced 25 years in prison. According to the ruling:
“It follows that e-mail requires strong protection under the Fourth Amendment; otherwise the Fourth Amendment would prove an ineffective guardian of private communication, an essential purpose it has long been recognized to serve,” wrote the court. “[T]he ISP is the functional equivalent of a post office or a telephone company. As we have discussed above, the police may not storm the post office and intercept a letter, and they are likewise forbidden from using the phone system to make a clandestine recording of a telephone call—unless they get a warrant, that is.”
While Warshak currently remains in prison, his sentence has been thrown out although the criminal conviction stands. Which means that Warshak will have to be sentenced again under the ruling.