The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Fourth Amendment does indeed preclude law enforcement from attaching GPS tracking devices to vehicles without a warrant. While this is the theme of the rare unanimous decision, the actual language is more nuanced. The government’s position was that a GPS tracker was not a “search”, but the court disagreed.
With our without the backing of the Fourth Amendment, we don't recommend incriminating yourselves via email, but for what it's worth, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals did rule that Uncle Sam needs a search warrant before he goes snooping in your inbox, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports. Here's what the Court had to say:
"Given the fundamental similarities between email and traditional forms of communication [like postal mail and telephone calls], it would defy common sense to afford emails lesser Fourth Amendment protection.... It follows that email 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.... [T]he 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. It only stands to reason that, if government agents compel an ISP to surrender the contents of a subscriber's emails, those agents have thereby conducted a Fourth Amendment search, which necessitates compliance with the warrant requirement...."
The EFF called the ruling a landmark decision, noting that it's the "only federal appellate decision currently on the books that squarely rules on this critically important privacy issue."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced today that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in their favor, meaning that Federal authorities cannot access emails without first obtaining a warrant. The court ruled that such action was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. The decision strikes down a 1986 law that had been interpreted to allow warrantless access to emails.
The case centered on Steven Warshak, who was the owner of Premium Nutraceuticals, a mail order company that sold the "male enhancement" supplement Enzyte. He was convicted of fraud based partially on seized emails, but he won't be getting out of jail free. The Appeals Court sent his case back to a lower court for a new sentence. The 1986 law, the Stored Communications Act, held that police were permitted to obtain emails older than 180 days without a warrant. All that was required was a special subpoena, which did not require probable cause.
The EFF filed a amicus brief with the court seeking to have the law struck down. Now that this action has been successful, authorities will need to show probably cause, and obtain a warrant before accessing emails. It is unclear if the Justice Department will pursue the case further.
In a legal back-and-forth between the Ontario Police Department in California and Sergeant Jeff Quon, the overarching privacy issues concerning technology have come into full view (once again).
Sgt. Jeff Quon sued the Ontario Police Department after his texting transcripts were read by his lieutenant. While the messages were sent to/from a department-issued pager (yep, pager), Sgt. Quon claims his fourth amendment rights were violated by the department.
A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Sgt. Quon saying that the lieutenant had made an informal policy change to view transcripts on accounts who didn’t pay their overage fees. In viewing Sgt. Quon’s transcripts, he violated his own policy and thus violated Sgt. Quon’s constitutional rights.
To take a step further, the Ontario Police Department petitioned the Supreme Court requesting the case to be overturned on the precedent that the lieutenant had no authority to overturn the department policy that all privacy is relinquished when using department equipment, including pagers.
Most companies force employees to sign IT Privacy restriction documents waiving all rights on company owned equipment. Do you think your privacy is violated if an IT guy snoops around your employer-issued computer?