In this lengthy opinion, the court considered the question of whether an account holder has an expectation of privacy as to the contents of his emails. Answering in the affirmative, the court held that “a subscriber enjoys a reasonable expectation privacy in the contents of his emails ‘that are stored with, or sent or received through, a commercial ISP’” and that “the government may not compel a commercial ISP to turn over the contents of a subscriber’s emails without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause.”Defendant Warshak was convicted of a number of crimes related to his company’s sales and accounting practices. During its investigation of Warshak, the government compelled the preservation and ultimately the production of emails from an internet service provider with which he maintained an account. This was accomplished, in large part, by serving a subpoena for the emails’ production pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, which “permits a ‘governmental entity’ to compel a service provider to disclose the contents of [electronic] communications in certain circumstances.” On appeal of his conviction, Warshak asserted that the disclosure, absent a warrant, violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
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