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Court Limits eMail Search Warrants

09.03.13

Search warrants were rejected because they required “...each Provider to disclose all email communications in their entirety and all information about the account without restriction.” On August 27, 2013 US Magistrate Judge David J. Waxse denied the government’s request under the 1986 Stored Communication Act to require Google, GoDaddy, Verizon, Yahoo!, and Skype regarding an alleged $5,000 theft of computer equipment:

...to disclose copies of electronic communications—including the contents of all emails, instant messages, and chatlogs/sessions—and other account-related information for the accounts identified in the ...“target accounts”...

As part of the Order Judge Waxse held:

...that an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in emails stored with, sent to, or received thorough an electronic communications service provider.

A warrant seeking stored electronic communications such as emails therefore should be subject to the same basic requirements of any search warrant: it must be based on probable cause, meet particularity requirements, be reasonable in nature of breadth, and be supported by affidavit

Judge Waxse was concerned:

...by the lack of any limits on the government’s review of the information, such as filtering procedures for emails and information that do not fall within the scope of probable cause or contain attorney-client privileged communications.

Although the US Supreme Court has not ruled on the Stored Communications Act related to emails, this ruling is important as it helps set standards for search warrants.
 

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