Dec 262013
 
 December 26, 2013  Court, U.S.

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?

Read more on The Volokh Conspiracy.

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