Recently in Privacy Category
Steven Groschen, MJLST Staff Member
Facebook recently announced a new policy that grants users the option of appointing an executor of their account. This policy change means that an individual's Facebook account can continue to exist after the original creator has passed. Although Facebook status updates from "beyond the grave" is certainly a peculiar phenomenon, it fits nicely into the larger debate of how to handle one's digital assets after their death.
Rebecca G. Cummings, in her article The Case Against Access to Decedents' Email: Password Protection as an Exercise of the Right to Destroy, discusses some of the arguments for and against providing access to a decedent's online account. Those favoring access to a decedent's account may assert one of two rationales: (1) access eases administrative burdens for personal representatives of estates; and (2) digital accounts are merely property to be passed on to one's descendants. The response from those disagreeing with access is that the intent of the deceased should be honored above other considerations. Further they argue that if there is no clear intent from the deceased (which is not uncommon because many Americans die without wills), then the presumption should be that the decedent's online accounts were intended to remain private.
Email and other online accounts (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, dating profiles) present novel problems for property rights of the deceased. Historically, a diary or the occasional love letter were among the most intimate property that could be transferred to one's descendants. The vast catalogs of information available in an email account drastically changes what is available to be passed on. In contrast to a diary, an email account contains far more than the highlights of an individual's day -- emails provide a detailed account of an individual's daily tasks and communications. Interestingly, this in-depth cataloging of daily activities has led some to the argument that information should be passed on as a way of creating a historical archive. There is certainly historical value in preserving an individual's social media or email accounts, however, it must be balanced against the potential invasion of his or her privacy.
As of June 2013, seven states have passed laws that explicitly govern digital assets after death. However, the latest development in this area is the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act, which was created by the Uniform Law Commission. This act attempts to create consistency among the various states on how digital assets are handled after an individual's death. Presently, the act is being considered for enactment in fourteen states. The act grants fiduciaries in certain instances the "same right to access those [digital] assets as the account holder, but only for the limited purpose of carrying out their fiduciary duties." Whether or not this act will satisfy both parties in this debate remains to be seen.
Jessica Ford, MJLST Staff Member
Lisa M. Durham Taylor's article, The Times They Are a-Changin': Shifting Norms and Employee Privacy in the Technological Era, in Volume 15 Issue 2 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology discusses employee workplace privacy rights in regard to new technologies. Taylor spends much of the article focusing on privacy concerns surrounding correspondence in the workplace. Taylor states that in certain cases, employees may be able to expect their personal email account correspondence to be private as seen in the 2008 case Pure Bower Boot Camp, Inc. v. Warrior Fitness Boot Camp, LLC. However, generally employers can legally monitor email messages and any websites an employee visits, including personal accounts.
Since Taylor's article, new technologies have emerged, bringing new privacy implications for the workplace with them. Wearable technologies such as Google Glass, smart watches, and fitness bands find themselves in a legal void, particularly in regard to privacy concerns. Several workplaces have implemented Google Glass through Google's Glass at Work program. While this could help productivity, especially in medical settings, it could also mean that an employer could review every recorded moment, even those containing personal conversations or experiences.
Smart watches could also have a troubling future due to the lack of legal boundaries. At the moment, it would be simple for a company to require employees to wear GPS-enabled smart watches and use the watches to track employees' locations, see if an employee is exceeding his break time, and instantaneously communicate with employees. Such uses could be frustrating, if not invasive. All messages and activities also could be tracked outside of the office, essentially eliminating any semblance of personal privacy. Additionally, as Taylor notes in her article, there is case precedent upholding a "public employer's search of text messages sent from and received on the employee's employer-issued paging device." This 2010 case, City of Ontario v. Quon, further allowed the employer to search personal messages.
For the moment, it appears that employers are erring on the side of caution. It will take some time to see whether the legal framework Taylor discusses will be applied to wearable technologies and whether it will be more permissive or restrictive for employers.
Mickey Stevens, MJLST Staff Member
If a person requires emergency medical treatment and shows up at any hospital that accepts payments from Medicare, that person will receive emergency health care treatment without regard to ability to pay, citizenship, or legal status. This happens because the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), enacted in 1986, requires such treatment as a method of preventing the practice of "patient dumping," where hospitals would refuse to treat people because of inability to pay, among other reasons. A recent circuit court decision and subsequent petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States has challenged this part of the EMTALA as constituting a taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
In February 2014, E. H. Morreim published an article discussing the EMTALA in volume 15, issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology. In that article, Morreim argued that EMTALA violates the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. According to Morreim, the EMTALA satisfies the three elements of a taking - property, taking, and public use. The article argues that the property taken is both personal property (pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and paid staff time) and the physical invasion of spaces in the hospital, for the public use of ensuring immediate emergency care without regard to the ability to pay. Furthermore, Morreim suggests that the EMTALA may resemble what Justice Scalia has termed a "Robin Hood Taking" where the government takes wealth from those who have it and transfers it to indigent defendants. See Brown v. Legal Found. Of Wash., 538 U.S. 216, 252 (2003) (Scalia, J., dissenting).
At the time of the article's publication, neither the Supreme Court nor any of the circuit courts had addressed the constitutionality of the EMTALA. That is no longer the case. The Eleventh Circuit addressed the issue and upheld the EMTALA as constitutional in Baker County Medical Services, Inc. v. U.S. Attorney General, 763 F.3d 1274 (11th Cir. 2014). There, the Appellant hospital appealed the lower court's grant of a motion to dismiss a claim seeking a declaratory judgment that EMTALA was an unconstitutional taking. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the law on the basis that voluntary participation in a regulated program defeats a takings clause challenge. The decision concluded by saying that the Hospital should turn to Congress for a remedy, instead of the courts.
Morreim's article addresses this so-called "voluntariness" of participation in EMTALA, arguing that the steep financial losses that would occur - the loss of all Medicare funding - render acceptance of the EMTALA obligations far from voluntary. In Baker County Medical Services, the court responded to these concerns, as raised by the Appellant hospital, by stating that economic hardship is not the same as compulsion.
The Eleventh Circuit's decision prompted the hospital to file a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. 2014 WL 6449709. The petition, which cites to Morreim's article, was filed in November and may soon receive a response from the Supreme Court. As Morreim wrote, "[s]tay tuned . . . the conversation is likely to become quite interesting."
Dylan Quinn, MJLST Lead Note Comment Editor
The work week is winding down and you are furiously trying to reach an agreement with opposing counsel on some issue or dispute. You email back and forth until it appears you have reached an agreement - at least for the weekend. You will tell your client about the essential terms next week to see if you should "finalize" everything with the other side.
I don't want to ruin your weekend, but you may have already bound the client to an enforceable agreement. How, you ask, can this be possible if I did not sign anything? Well, in light of the UETA and developing case law, that automatic signature block at the bottom of all your emails might be enough.
Minnesota Statutes Section 481.08 provides that an "attorney may bind a client, at any stage of an action or proceeding, by agreement made ... in writing and signed by such attorney." In addition, Minnesota has long joined almost every other state by adopting a variation of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). The purpose of the UETA is to provide a legal framework for the use of electronic signatures and records in government of business transactions, making them as legal as paper and manually signed signature. In sum, the UETA will apply to agreements reached under Section 481.08.
Minnesota Statutes Section 325L(h), defines "electronic signature" as "an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record." Furthermore, Section 325L.05 (b), makes clear that the UETA in Minnesota only applies to transactions between parties where they both have "agreed to conduct transactions by electronic means," which is determined by the "context and surrounding circumstances, including the parties' conduct." However, any attorney negotiating a settlement or other stipulation via email will open themselves up to the argument that they intended to transact business electronically, so the central question is whether or not an attorney intended the signature block to constitute a legally significant act that authenticates the email, thus binding the client to a settlement or other agreement.
It has long been held that an email chain can constitute a binding agreement. This past summer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, held that "an electronic signature in an email message does not necessarily evidence intent to electronically sign a document attached to the e-mail." See SN4, LLC v. Anchor Bank, fsb, 848 N.W.2d 559, 567 (Minn. Ct. App. 2014). While the decision adds to a growing body of jurisprudence in this area, the question of automated signature blocks was tabled by the decision and the parties involved were not attorneys. The Minnesota Supreme Court denied review this past September.
Other jurisdictions can offer some guidance. For example, In New York, where another law outside the UETA effectively serves the same purpose, it has long been held that automated imprints or signatures were insufficient to authentic every document. See Parma Tile Mosaic & Marble Co. v. Estate of Fred, 663 N.E.2d 633, 635 (NY Ct. App. 1996) (finding for Statute of Frauds purposes, automatic imprint of "MRLS Construction" on every faxed document did not amount to "sender's apparent intention to authentic every document subsequently faxed.").
In Texas, there is a split among the Courts on the issue of an attorneys signature block creating an enforceable agreement. Compare Cunningham v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 352 S.W.3d 519, 529-30 (Tex. App. 2011) (determining settlement agreement had not been reached because the Court declined "to hold that mere sending ... of an email containing a signature block satisfies the signature requirement when no evidence suggests that the information was typed purposefully rather than generated automatically."), with Williamson v. Bank of New York Mellon, 947 F. Supp. 2d 704, 710 (N.D. Tex. 2013) (disagreeing with Cunningham because (1) the attorney must have typed in the signature block information "at some point in the past," (2) a broad view of the electronic signature definition comports with UETA's purpose, and (3) "email communication is a reasonable and legitimate means of reaching a settlement in this day and age.").
On the one hand, it seems like a strong argument to point out the fact that all emails contain the signature block. How can that possibly evidence the requisite intent to authenticate statements or agreements? Do we really want to allow attorneys to use this argument any time they get close enough to reaching an agreement when emailing back and forth? In response, one must ask: in what instance should we allow an attorney to seemingly agree with opposing counsel via email, but get out of it because they did not use "/s/", and just had their automated signature block?
Regardless of the outcome, the potential impact of a decision one way or the other will have far reaching impacts on legal practice, and more specifically litigation, in Minnesota. As the Court recognized in Williamson, "email communication is a reasonable and legitimate means of reaching a settlement in this day and age." If the entire purpose of the UETA was to facilitate electronic transactions, and the Minnesota Supreme Court is in charge of providing professional and ethical guidance for the profession within the state, they should grant review as opposed to tabling the issue.
Until then, all parties transacting business electronically, but especially attorneys, should be conscious of that little signature block they typed in the first day they set up their email account.
Sen "Alex" Wang, MJLST Staff Member
In Volume 13 Issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Ira P. Robbins called for special attention for social-networking evidence used in civil and criminal litigation and proposed an authorship-centric approach to the authentication of such evidence. In recent years, social-networking websites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have become an ingrained part of our culture. However, at least as it appears to Robbins, people are stupid with regard to their online postings since they document their every move no matter how foolish or incriminating on social-networking sites. The lives and careers of not only ordinary citizens, but also lawyers, judges, and even Congress members have been damaged by their own social-networking postings.
Social-networking sites are designed to facilitate interpersonal relationships and information exchanges, but they have also been used to harass, intimidate, and emotionally abuse or bully others. With no effective check on fake accounts or false profiles, the anonymity of social-networking sites permits stalkers and bullies to take their harmful conduct above and beyond traditional harrying. The infamous Lori Drew and Latisha Monique Frazier cases provide excellent examples. Moreover, hackers and identity thieves have also taken advantages of the personal information posted on social-networking sites. Thus, Robbins argued that the growth in popularity of social-networking sites and the rising number of fake accounts and incidents of hacking signal that information from social-networking sites will begin to play a central role in both civil and criminal litigation.
Often unbeknownst to the social-networking user, postings leave a permanent trail that law-enforcement agents and lawyers frequently rely upon in crime solving and trial strategy. Robbins argued that the ease with which social-networking evidence can be altered, forged, or posted by someone other than the owner of the account should raise substantial admissibility concerns. Specifically, Robbins stated that social-networking postings are comparable to postings on websites rather than e-mails. Thus, the authentication of social-networking evidence is the critical first step to ensuring that the admitted evidence is trustworthy and, ultimately, that litigants receive a fair and just trial.
Robbins, however, further argued that the current judicial approaches to authentication of such evidence have failed to require rigorous showings of authenticity despite the demonstrated unreliability of information on social-networking sites. In the first approach, the court effectively shirks its gate-keeping function, deflecting all reliability concerns associated with social-networking evidence to the finder of fact. Under the second approach, the court authenticates a social-networking posting by relying solely on testimony of the recipient. The third approach requires testimony about who, aside from the owner, can access the social-networking account in question. With the fourth approach, the court focuses on establishing the author of a specific posting but failed to provide a thorough framework.
As a solution, Robbins proposed an authorship-centric approach that instructs courts to evaluate multiple factors when considering evidence from social-networking websites. The factors fall into three categories: account security, account ownership, and the posting in question. Although no one factor in these categories is dispositive, addressing each will help to ensure that admitted evidence possesses more than a tenuous link to its purported author. For account security, the inquiry should include at least the following questions: (1) Does the social-networking site allow users to restrict access to their profiles or certain portions of their profiles? (2)Is the account that was used to post the proffered evidence password protected? (3) Does anyone other than the account owner have access to the account? (4) Has the account been hacked into in the past? (5) Is the account generally accessed from a personal or a public computer? (6) How was the account accessed at the time the posting was made? As to account ownership, a court should address, at a minimum, the following key questions: (1) Who is the person attached to the account that was used to post the proffered evidence? (2) Is the e-mail address attached to the account one that is normally used by the person? (3) Is the alleged author a frequent user of the social-networking site in question? Finally, the court should ask at least these questions regarding the posting in question: (1) How was the evidence at issue placed on the social-networking site? (2) Did the posting at issue come from a public or a private area of the social-networking website? (3) How was the evidence at issue obtained from the website?
This authorship-centric approach properly shifts a court's attention from content and account ownership to authorship, it underscores the importance of fairness and accuracy in the outcome of judicial proceedings that involve social-networking evidence. In addition, it fit within the current circumstantial-evidence authentication framework set out by Federal Rules of Evidence 901(b)(4) and will not require the courts to engage in a more exhaustive inquiry than is already required for other types of evidence.
Ian Blodger, MJLST Staff Member
The US's military intervention against ISIL carries with it a high risk of cyber-terror attacks. The FBI reported that ISIL and other terrorist organizations may turn to cyber attacks against the US in response to the US's military engagement of ISIL. While no specific targets have been confirmed, likely attacks could result in website defacement to denial of service attacks. Luckily, recent cyber terror attacks attempting to destabilize the US power grid failed, but next time we may not be so lucky. Susan Brenner's recent article, Cyber-threats and the Limits of Bureaucratic Control, published in the Minnesota Journal of Law Science and Technology volume 14 issue 1, describes the structural reasons for the US's vulnerabilities to cyber attacks, and offers one possible solution to the problem.
Brenner argues that the traditional methods of investigation do not work well when it comes to cyber attacks. This ineffectiveness results from the obscured origin and often hidden underlying purpose of the attack, both of which are crucial in determining whether a law enforcement or military response is necessary. The impairment leads to problems assessing which agency should control the investigation and response. A nation's security from external attackers depends, in part, on its ability to present an effective deterrent to would be attackers. In the case of cyber attacks, however, the US's confusion on which agency should respond often precludes an efficient response.
Brenner argues that these problems are not transitory, but will increase in direct proportion to our reliance on complex technology. The current steps taken by the US are unlikely to solve the issue since they do not address the underlying problem, instead continuing to approach cyber terrorists as conventional attackers. Concluding that top down command structures are unable to respond effectively to the treat of cyber attacks, Brenner suggests a return to a more primitive mode of defense. Rather than trusting the government to ensure the safety of the populace, Brenner suggests citizens should work with the government to ensure their own safety. This decentralized approach, modeled on British town defenses after the fall of the Roman Empire, may avoid the ineffective pitfalls of the bureaucratic approach to cyber security.
There are some issues with this proposed model for cyber security, however. Small British towns during the early middle ages may have been able to ward off attackers through an active citizen based defense, but the anonymity of the internet makes this approach challenging when applied to a digitized battlefield. Small British towns were able to easily identify threats because they knew who lived in the area. The internet, as Brenner concedes, makes it difficult to determine to whom any given person pays allegiance. Presumably, Brenner theorizes that individuals would simply respond to attacks on their own information, or enlist the help of others to fed off attacks. However, the anonymity of the internet would mean utter chaos in bolstering a collective defense. For example, an ISIL cyber terrorist could likely organize a collective US citizen response against a passive target by claiming they were attacked. Likewise, groups utilizing pre-emptive attacks against cyber terrorist organizations could be disrupted by other US groups that do not recognize the pre-emptive cyber strike as a defensive measure. This simply shows that the analogy between the defenses of a primitive British town and the Internet is not complete.
Brenner may argue that her alternative simply calls for current individuals, corporations, and groups to build up their own defenses and protect themselves from impending cyber threats. While this approach would avoid the problems inherent in a bureaucratic approach, it ignores the fact that these groups are unable to protect themselves currently. Shifting these groups' understanding of their responsibility of self defense may spur innovation and increase investment in cyber protection, but this will likely be insufficient to stop a determined cyber attack. Large corporations like Apple, JPMorgan, Target, and others often hemorrhage confidential information as a result of cyber attacks, even though they have large financial incentives to protect that information. This suggests that an individualized approach to cyber protection would also likely fail.
With the threat of ISIL increasing, it is time for the United States to take additional steps to reduce the threat of a cyber terror attack. At this initial stage, the inefficiencies of bureaucratic action will result in a delayed response to large-scale cyber terror attacks. While allowing private citizens to band together for their own protection may have some advantages over government inefficiency, this too likely would not solve all cyber security problems.
Jessica Ford, MJLST Staff
Apple's iPhone tends to garner a great deal of excitement from its aficionados for its streamlined aspects and much resentment from users craving customization on their devices. Apple's newest smartphone model, the iPhone 6, is no exception. However, at Apple's September 9, 2014 iPhone 6 unveiling, Apple announced that the new iOS 8 operating system encrypts emails, photos, and contacts when a user assigns a passcode to the phone. Apple is unable to bypass a user's passcode under the new operating system and is accordingly unable to comply with government warrants demanding physical data extraction from iOS 8 devices.
The director of the FBI, James Comey, has already voiced concerns that this lack of access to iOS 8 devices could prevent the government from gathering information on a terror attack or child kidnappings.
Comey is not the only one to criticize Apple's apparent attempt to bypass legal court orders and warrants. Orin Kerr, a criminal procedure and computer crime law professor at The George Washington University Law School, worries that this could essentially nullify the Supreme Court's finding in Riley v. California this year which requires the police to have a warrant before searching and seizing the contents of an arrested individual's cell phone.
However, phone calls and text messages are not encrypted, and law enforcement can gain access to that data by serving a warrant upon wireless carriers. Law enforcement can also tap and monitor cellphones by going through the same process. Any data backed to iCloud, including iMessages and photos, can be accessed under a warrant. The only data that law enforcement would not be able to access without a passcode is data normally backed up to iCloud that still remains on the device.
While security agencies argue otherwise, iOS 8 seems far from rendering Riley's warrants useless. Law enforcement still has several viable options to gain information with a warrant. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has already made it clear that it does not find that the public's interest in solving or preventing crimes outweighs the public's interest in privacy of phone data, even when there is a chance that the data on a cell phone at issue will be encrypted once the passcode locks the phone,
"[I]n situations in which . . . an officer discovers an unlocked phone, it is not clear that the ability to conduct a warrantless search would make much of a difference. The need to effect the arrest, secure the scene, and tend to other pressuring matters means that law enforcement officers may well not be able to turn their attention to a cell phone right away . . . . If 'the police are truly confronted with a 'now or never' situation,' . . . they may be able to rely on exigent circumstances to search the phone immediately . . . . Or, if officers happen to seize a phone in an unlocked state, they may be able to disable a phone's automatic-lock feature in order to prevent the phone from locking and encrypting data . . . . Such a preventive measure could be analyzed under the principles set forth in our decision in McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 121 S.Ct. 946, which approved officers' reasonable steps to secure a scene to preserve evidence while they awaited a warrant." (citations omitted) Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 2487-88 (2014).
With all the legal recourse that remains open, it appears somewhat hasty for the paragon-of-virtue FBI to be crying "big bad wolf."
Joe McCartin, Managing Editor
E-Discovery costs can be quite prohibitive. The problem was detailed by David Degnan in Volume 12, Issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology. In his article, Accounting for the Costs of Electronic Discovery, Degnan discussed the use of four methods for controlling costs - sampling, gap testing, crawl systems, and cooperation. Recently, FDIC litigation against former directors of failed banks has created a new trend in E-Discovery cost containment - the quick peek and clawback. However, this new cost control mechanism may not control cost at all. It merely shifts a significant amount of cost onto the requesting party, upending traditional discovery procedures.
In FDIC v. Hayden, et al. and FDIC v. Copenhaver, et al. the court required the requesting party of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) to submit search terms to the FDIC, which would then produce all documents relevant to those terms in a Relativity database. The requesting party would then have access to all hosted documents, but would be responsible for conducting initial document review itself. After the requesting party conducted a "quick peek" and selected relevant documents, the FDIC would then have the opportunity to "clawback" any privileged documents. The FDIC would not have to review any documents not selected by the requesting party.
It is entirely appropriate for courts to shift the costs to a requesting party at times. Zubulake v. UBS Warburg, LLC. detailed a number of factors that could warrant cost shifting from the producing to the requesting party, and in FDIC v Hayden, et al. the court engaged in extensive analysis of the Zubulake factors. However, courts need to bear in mind that review is not just a portion of the production cost, it is the overwhelming bulk of the cost, and should not be shifted between parties without compelling reasons. Degnan showed in his article that the primary costs associated with E-discovery comes from review, which accounts for roughly 58% of the cost of e-discovery. Even in the presence of a number of compelling Zubulake factors, courts should make an attempt to split, not just shift, the cost of review.
While some requesting parties have found the arrangement to their liking, courts have also foisted this on others. Notably, this practice doesn't reduce the overall amount of review, it merely shifts the costs of initial review from the producing to the requesting party. Requesting parties need to be aware of the potential costs they will bear under this arrangement. If they want to avoid the imposition of quick peek and clawback by courts, they should seek to follow the guidance of Degnan and the Sedona Conference and cooperate extensively with the opposing party in crafting a discovery process that is acceptable. Failure to work on a discovery plan cooperatively, leaves the requesting party more vulnerable to having a plan foisted upon them, one that may shift the bulk of costs onto them.
Alex Vlisides, Symposium Editor
Law professors love to tweak hypotheticals until students become uncomfortable with the result. It is the classic law school trap. As soon as you agree a premeditated, unprovoked killing is never justified, you are swept away to a desperate life raft in which the only way for the innocents to survive is for one of them to be thrown overboard. This is how we test which of the competing values will break first. And how law professors entertain themselves.
The developments in drone and camera technology are bringing Fourth Amendment privacy rules, particularly the public observation doctrine, to their breaking point. Public observation is the idea that generally what one exposes to the public may be observed or even recorded without violating privacy. But fundamental changes in what can be observed alters this balance. The development of technologies that sound made up for law school hypotheticals will challenge constitutional doctrine. Surveillance technology capable of tracking the movements of every individual in a several square mile are. Drones which can stay stationed in the air for years at a time. Cameras capable of surveilling private land and spaces from so high above they are effectively invisible. These technologies exist and each challenge the notion that observation in and from public spaces does not violate privacy.
These technologies are not exactly new: both aerial crafts and surveillance technologies have improved steadily for decades. What is new is that the rapid development of the last decade has brought the doctrine near to the breaking point, the point that law professors love. The point at which the designed rule, the sturdy absolute, cracks under changing facts. The point at which we have to decide which principle gives: the general autonomy to observe and record in public spaces and right to privacy. The public observation doctrine was developed to navigate this balance. The challenge for courts, and perhaps law students, is that the breaking point approaching Fourth Amendment law is no longer hypothetical.
by Paul Overbee, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
In Volume 9, Issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Manish Kumar wrote a note titled Constitutionalizing E-Mail Privacy by Informational Access. The note used the reasoning of a Supreme Court case, Kyllo v. United States, to create a framework with which to analyze what constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy in terms of an individual's e-mails. The test identified by Kumar was to ask whether the government has to employ special means not available to the public to access any allegedly private information. If the government is employing special means in the course of a search, then that search is subject to Fourth Amendment protections. The note continued by using that rationale as one way to assess e-mail privacy.
Legal inquiries such as those presented in Kumar's note are now receiving greater attention since the recent events involving Edward Snowden. Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency employee, was involved in leaking documents that have detailed many of the National Security Agency's global surveillance practices. One aspect of these leaks detailed how the National Security Agency requires cell phone companies such as Verizon to collect metadata for all telephone conversations involving individuals from the United States. Since these metadata collections were made public, a number of lawsuits have challenged the constitutionality of the procedure as an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
This Fourth Amendment question has been dealt with in two distinct manners, each of which brings a separate conclusion. Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia found that the technology used in gathering the metadata employed a special means not available to the public and thus constituted an unconstitutional search and seizure. Alternatively, Judge William Pauley III of the Southern District of New York found that these methods to do not implicate the Fourth Amendment.
This issue has already caught the attention of the general public, and it is no stretch to expect the Supreme Court to eventually hear these cases. The Pauley opinion and the Leon opinion both provide a good overview of the arguments available for both sides of the issue. Additionally, the court may look to the test from Kyllo v. United States to further guide their opinion.