Court: E-mail and web site addresses not private
By Julia Cheever
July 6, 2007
A federal appeals court in San Francisco today upheld the right
of government agents to gather information without a search warrant
on the e-mail and Internet addresses used by a criminal suspect.
The 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals said that "e-mail and
Internet users have no expectation of privacy" in e-mail
and Web site addresses.
The court said users should know that these messages are sent
and Web sites are visited through third parties such as their
Internet service provider and that the information is therefore
The ruling was made in the case of two Southern California men
who appealed their conviction and 30-year sentences for operating
a large Ecstasy-manufacturing drug laboratory in Escondido.
The appeals court rejected the men's challenge to government
agents' surveillance of e mail and Web site addresses on their
The court said that surveillance of computer addresses alone
- as opposed to eavesdropping on the content of messages - was
similar to collecting information on telephone numbers called
or on addresses written on the outside of postal envelopes.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld surveillance of both postal
mail addresses and telephone number registers. It first upheld
mail address surveillance in 1877 and affirmed inspections of
telephone numbers in 1979.
Circuit Judge Raymond Fisher wrote, "The government's surveillance
of e-mail addresses also may be technologically sophisticated,
but it is conceptually indistinguishable from government surveillance
of physical mail."
The court emphasized that it was not ruling on whether government
agents were entitled to look at the content of e-mail messages
without a warrant.
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