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US appeals court rules against warrantless search of e-mail

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled [PDF text] unanimously Monday that the warrantless search of e-mails stored on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) violates the Fourth Amendment [text], finding that e-mail users correctly maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy and rejecting the government's contention that an ISP's right to screen e-mails for spam and inappropriate content diminished that expectation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Democracy and Technology [advocacy websites] filed an amici curiae brief [PDF text] in the lawsuit [case materials], arguing that privacy expectations in e-mail communications are analogous to the expectations of privacy that accompany conventional postal mail or telephone communications by e-mail, and urging the court to extend privacy expectation rulings from conventional modes of communication.

The ruling, which upheld a district court injunction [PDF text] barring the federal government from warrantlessly searching any personal e-mail accounts maintained by ISPs, is the first in the federal court system. Federal prosecutors may appeal to have the case heard en banc or before the Supreme Court. AP has more.

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