Orin Kerr discusses an interesting question and ruling:
A recent case, United States v. Young (D. Utah, December 17, 2013) (Campbell, J.), touches on a novel, interesting, and quite important question of Fourth Amendment law: Assuming that e-mail account-holders generally have Fourth Amendment rights in the contents of their e-mails, as courts have so far held, when does a person’s Fourth Amendment rights in copies of sent e-mails lose Fourth Amendment protection?
To understand the question, consider Fourth Amendment rights in postal letters. Before a letter is sent, only the sender has rights in the letter; during transmission, both the sender and recipient have rights in the letter; and once the letter is delivered at its destination, the recipient maintains Fourth Amendment rights but the sender’s rights expires. But how do you apply this to an e-mail? By analogy, a sender loses Fourth Amendment rights in the copy of the e-mail that the recipient has downloaded to his personal computer or cell phone. But does the sender have Fourth Amendment rights in the copy of the e-mail stored on the recipient’s server after the recipient has accessed the copy? And does the sender have Fourth Amendment rights in the copy of the e-mail stored on the recipient’s server before the recipient has accessed the copy? At what point does the sender’s Fourth Amendment rights in the sent copy expire?
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