back to article Court cheers warrantless snooping of e-mail

Your e-mail is at risk again thanks to a recent ruling that backs no-notice, warrantless digs through e-mail accounts held by service providers. A US appeals court issued a ruling (PDF) on Friday that overturned a previous decision by one of its panels preventing government searches of private email accounts without prior …


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  1. Pierre


    "the ever-changing world of electronic communications made it difficult to state definitively that all future applications of the disputed section of the SCA would be unconstitutional."

    WTF???? If ANY use of it can violate the constitution, surely it is unconstitutional in its whole and should at least be amended/reworded so as to exclude any possible unconstitutional use!

  2. Gearhead


    I don't care, I use PGP.

  3. J-Wick

    Re: PGP

    Yeah, me too (on occasion) . I need to figure out how to do it seamlessly with my email (shouldn't be too hard).

    Also, Off-The-Record messaging plugin for Pidgin...

  4. Justin
    Black Helicopters


    I would recommend trying the combo of Thunderbird, Enigmail & OpenPGP. It's a pretty sweet imo.

  5. Scott Herter

    They had a warrent...

    "The court issuing the order in this case determined that notice to Warshak would put the investigation at risk, so it directed the government to delay notice to Warshak by 90 days. The court also sealed the orders, however, so the government waited until the court unsealed the orders to actually give Warshak notice of the release. Warshak finally received the word that the government had searched his emails roughly one year after the first order came down."

    They had a warrent, this has nothing to do with warrentless searches. The problem was that he wasn't notified until 1 year instead of 90 days after the search was conducted. This truely is procedural in issue, not a constitutional issue for warrentless searches.

  6. yeah, right.


    Would love to use PGP - unfortunately most of the people I communicate with "can't be bothered". So much for PGP.

    Need to build in automatic encryption for people to start using it. Even then they'll forget their passkey.

    Can't win. Can't break even. And I can't quit the damn game.

  7. Kevin Fayle
    Thumb Up

    @ Scott Herter

    There's a subtle distinction between a warrant and the type of court order that's at issue here. Warrants don't require a hearing for the subject of the warrant, but they do require probable cause; court orders to release emails under the SCA do require a hearing for the subject of the order, but they require less justification than probable cause. Since the orders here were ex parte, the plaintiff essentially argued that the requirements for a warrant applied and since the government didn't go through the proper steps to secure a warrant, the searches violated the Fourth Amendment. The first two courts agreed with him, but the full 6th Circuit decided to skip ruling on the merits of the case by holding that the issue wasn't ripe for adjudication.

  8. Shannon Jacobs

    Exactly why couldn't they get any warrants required?

    Assuming at least one of the 90-odd convictions was based on an actual crime, you'd think they would have had sufficient grounds to convince some judge to approve an actual warrant. Maybe they were hoping to sweep up some extra criminals just on the off chance?

    The icon? Not sure if I ever sent any email to that server, but if so, I would feel like my pockets had been picked.

  9. Andy Worth


    They might find out about my secret fetish....

    Seriously, anyone who sends email and expects nobody else to read it, and their privacy rights to be protected is a bit of an idiot. And before I get flamed for saying that, I don't agree that they should be able to do it, but the fact is that we all know that they do regardless.

  10. Bob H

    @ PGP, yea right

    I've been using them for years, the best kept secret on the net, if you don't waste space and need GB of mail storage then they are ideal. I now even use their paid service. Canadian storage which is encrypted and if they do get a legal request for your mails they can hand them over... encrypted.

  11. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

    Re: Damn,,,


    "Seriously, anyone who sends email and expects nobody else to read it, and their privacy rights to be protected is a bit of an idiot"

    I completely agree. It is likely that your email will have passed, plain text, through multiple SMPT servers before reaching you. Anyone on one of those servers, or sat in between with a packet sniffer, could have read them.

    Email is not secure. Realy, the only thing which can make it so is encryption. And, as mentioned above, most people cant be bothered.

    Things get even worse when you start looking at VoIP. Unencypted audio packets, floating accross the net. I wouldnt be surprised if cops were allowed to capture these without a warrant, as they are floating around where anyone can see them.

    It is up to YOU to ensure you have a secure communication channel. If you haven't, don't say anything which might incriminate you.

  12. Tom

    A decision based on a false assumption is a bad decision.

    " account owners have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their messages." being the false assumption. For most people email is transmitted in clear text through an unknown number of servers, and any one of the servers could be compromised. I've never regarded email I send from personal accounts as private in the legal sense, emails from my work accounts even less so since I don't even own those accounts but am merely a custodian of them. And obviously the email was not encrypted, or the feds wouldn't have been able to read them.

  13. Scott Herter

    @ Kevin Fayle

    Point conceded, I did miss the distinction between a court order and a warrant.

  14. Brian Morrison


    ....on MTAs like Exim and Sednmail does a lot to protect email flowing from place to place from being intercepted. That means that a lot of interceptions will have to be done on the servers where the mail ended up and that will require a warrant.

    In the current UK climate, any kind of stored content that is encrypted leaves you open to RIPA Pt.III so I strongly recommend that you don't keep anything encrypted and let the important information reside in your head alone.

  15. Kevin Fayle

    Back @ Scott Herter

    Hey, it was easy to miss. The whole ex parte component really blurs the line between the two, which was basically the point of the lawsuit. Plus, the article probably wasn't as clear as it could have been, so I'm grateful for the chance to clarify the issues.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Bill of Rights

    We don't have to obey no stinking bill of rights.

  17. Jeffrey Sharpe
    Thumb Down

    RE: @ PGP, yea right

    Hushmail, bah, read this:

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