Freedom of speech on Web Essay

The World Wide Web revolutionized the way the developed world conducted business.  Today almost anything can be done over the web, from ordering pizza and groceries to managing finances and shopping.  More importantly, the world wide web has provided a free and easy forum for the circulation of ideas among ordinary citizens, allowing channels of communication to open like never before.  Email, perhaps, has changed our lives the most – allowing speedy written communication free of charge, but along with this relatively new technology comes certain legal issues regarding its use and the American citizen’s right to privacy.

            The United States government has been operating under the Stored Communications Act for the past twenty years (since the internet’s inception) which is an act that allows federal agents to secretly search emails stored with a third party server, such as hotmail or other email providers.  These searches are currently legal, and the government is under no obligation to inform the party under question of its searches.  This means that the government has carte blanche with the information in emails of private citizens and must undergo no due process of law.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have recently filed a brief with the Southern District of Ohio federal court on behalf of Steven Warshak, whose emails have been searched by the federal government under the SCA, arguing that the SCA violates the fourth amendment of the US Constitution.

            The ACLU and EFF are arguing that email, like regular postal mail and private phone calls, should be equally protected under the law, and that citizens should have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” on this new electronic forum as it does on more traditional methods.  (EFF)

Works Cited

EFF Fights to Shield Email from Secret Government Searches, Nov 26, 2006
http://www.eff.org/news/archives/2006_11.php#005022

Text Copy of the article copied and pasted off of the EFF Website to bring to class, as per the instructions:

November 27, 2006
EFF Fights to Shield Email from Secret Government Searches
Email Deserves Same Constitutional Protections as Phone Calls, Postal Mail

San Francisco – The government must have a search warrant before it can search and seize emails stored by email service providers, according to a friend-of-the-court brief filed last week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of civil liberty groups. EFF filed the brief in support of a landmark district court decision finding that the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing secret, warrantless searches and seizures of email stored with a third party.

EFF’s amicus brief was filed in Warshak vs. United States, a case brought in the Southern District of Ohio federal court by Steven Warshak to stop the government’s repeated secret searches and seizures of his stored email using the SCA. The district court ruled that the government cannot use the SCA to obtain stored email without a warrant or prior notice to the email account holder. The government, which has routinely used the SCA over the past 20 years to secretly obtain stored email without a warrant, appealed the decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court is now primed to be the first circuit court ever to decide whether email users have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their stored email.

“Email users clearly expect that their inboxes are private, but the government argues the Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect emails at all when they are stored with an ISP or a webmail provider like Hotmail or Gmail,” said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. “EFF disagrees. We think that the Fourth Amendment applies online just as strongly as it does offline, and that your email should be as safe against government intrusion as your phone calls, postal mail, or the private papers you keep in your home.”

The EFF brief was also signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Ohio, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

For the full amicus brief:
http://eff.org/legal/cases/warshak_v_usa/warshak_amicus.pdf

Contact:

Kevin Bankston
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
[email protected]