Government may not need warrant to search your e-mail

First off, I hate snake-oil salesmen. Whether they are dubious Search Engine Optimizer specialists, or greedy buggers selling bogus penis growth pills on late night television. That said, I also don’t like seeing the freedoms of the majority eroded in the pursuit of the few bad apples.

Government may not need warrant to search your e-mail
At issue is the Stored Communications Act, a law that gives the government easier access to material held by third parties than to first-party documents. In this case, the government claimed that Warshaks e-mail was stored on servers belonging to Yahoo and other companies, and that this meant it should be easier for them to access than if the e-mail was stored only on Warshaks personal computer. According to court documents seen by Ars Technica, Warshak argues that the act is unconstitutional and that users should have the same expectations of privacy regardless of who is storing their e-mail.

No decision has yet been made on the email issue. Once it is, Warshaks case will proceed in a lower federal court.

The crux of the matter is that the government feels your email is ‘more accessible’ because it is stored on someone else’s server. That should send a chill down your spine, because there are only a couple of people I know who own and run their own email servers, and I don’t think they read my weblog. I’m betting you, the reader, have at least one Yahoo or Gmail account; and the government wants the court to rule they can read it without a search warrant. (As a side note, if they win this one how long will it be until they argue mail at a non-USPS mailbox service is not protected under the 4th Amendment either?)

Should the government win this round, law enforcement will be allowed greater freedom in regards to access to email on third party servers in order to fish for reasons to get a real search warrant.

Should this happen, I see a perfect business model for defeating their lame ‘material held by third parties’ justification: co-op mail servers. Set up a mail service business under the co-op model, where every user is in fact part owner of the service and servers. Charge a buy-in fee when they join the co-op and a monthly membership fee for upkeep. The upside is that the users do own the server, and would be exempt from this new loophole the feds are trying to use to get around the 4th Amendment. The downside is that they will eventually find a way around it and perhaps put at risk all the members if one is a bad apple. It might not be a perfect solution, but I would prefer to have my mail on a server I own, or at least trust, than on a random Yahoo or Google/Gmail server.

-Chris

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