Why the Fourth Amendment Doesn’t Protect Your Email Privacy

In today’s digital age, many people assume that the rules and regulations that have guided issues of personal privacy over the years have evolved to meet the needs of our modern, high-tech society. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

While there is a general understanding that Americans have the right to privacy when it comes to things like their mail or phone calls, that same guarantee doesn’t yet extend to email, especially for users who don’t take advantage of secure private email. Most of the legal questions regarding American privacy have typically come back to the Fourth Amendment. That constitutional provision states that: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

However, as of yet, the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on just how the Fourth Amendment affects privacy in the digital age. Right now, the issue is often looked at through the lens of a law known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was enacted more than 30 years ago. It dictates that law enforcement only needs a subpoena—not a full warrant—to obtain electronic messages that are more than 180 days old and stored by a third party, such as a free public server. Such servers may decide to release users’ private email to government or other sources even before than six-month threshold and even without a warrant.

That’s among the many reasons why it’s so important to have a secure private email address. Private servers are founded on the principle that users’ privacy must be protected and, as such, are committed to only releasing user information when absolutely necessary. Especially until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a final ruling on email privacy or laws catch up with the realities of digital communication, secure private email is one way users can add an extra layer of protection for their privacy.