Ashby Jones writes:
Here’s a question: Is it kosher for a law enforcement agency to, pursuant to a lawfully granted search warrant, search your Gmail account without telling you?
According to an opinion handed down earlier this year and currently making the rounds on legal blogs (here and here), the answer is yes.
The opinion, handed down by Portland, Ore., federal judge Michael Mosman, doesn’t really delve into the case’s facts. It cuts right to the legal issue: whether the government must notify the subscriber to an email service before the government undertakes a search.
Much of the reluctance to apply traditional notions of third party disclosure to the e-mail context seems to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the lack of privacy we all have in our e-mails. Some people seem to think that they are as private as letters, phone calls, or journal entries. The blunt fact is, they are not.
Read more on the WSJ Law Blog.
Over on FourthAmendment.com, John Wesley Hall comments:
The sad fact is that an amendment will be required to put a notice provision into the Stored Communications Act. People think e-mail is private like letters in transit, but “[t]he blunt fact is, they are not.” Technology is steadily overcoming the Fourth Amendment. From GPS to e-mail, our privacy is slipping away, and older notions of the meaning of the reasonable expectation of privacy no longer seem to apply. If people think that e-mail is private, then why cannot they have a subjective expectation of privacy “that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.'” Katz, infra, at 361 (Harlan, J., concurring).
The case is In the Matter of an Application of the United States for a Search Warrant on the Contents of Electronic Mail and for an Order Directing a Provider of Electronic Communication Services to not Disclose the Existence of the Search Warrant, 2009 WL 3416240 (No. 08-9131-MC, D. Ore.