Last week in Rehberg v. Paulk, the Eleventh Circuit held that sending “emails to third parties constitute[s] a voluntary relinquishment of the right to privacy in that information.” In this case, the investigators subpoenaed the emails directly from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) through which Rehberg transmitted his messages. The Court held that he did not have a valid expectation of privacy in the email information, so he failed to state a Fourth Amendment violation.
This ruling might be a dangerous precedent, for several reasons. First, the Court of Appeals says that none of us has any privacy in our emails the moment we hit the ‘send’ button. Second, this means that the government can get our otherwise private messages from every ISP we use to connect us with the outside world. This ruling represents one more step towards a lack of privacy, and in favor of the government’s ability to intrude into our lives.
The opinion in Rehberg v. Paulk is here.
A lengthy analysis by Orin Kerr on why the Eleventh Circuit got this wrong is here at the Volokh Conspiracy.