The First Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a grave blow to the privacy of Internet communications with its decision today in the case of U.S. v. Councilman. The court held that it was not a violation of criminal wiretap laws for the provider of an email service to monitor the content of users' incoming messages without their consent. The defendant in the case is a seller of rare and used books who offered email service to customers. The defendant had configured the mail processing software so that all incoming email sent from Amazon.com, the defendant's competitor, was copied and sent to the defendant's mailbox as well as to the intended recipient's. As the court itself admitted, "it may well be that the protections of the Wiretap Act have been eviscerated as technology advances."
"By interpreting the Wiretap Act's privacy protections very narrowly, this court has effectively given Internet communications providers free rein to invade the privacy of their users for any reason and at any time," says Kevin Bankston, EFF attorney and Equal Justice Works fellow. "This decision makes clear that the law has failed to adapt to the realities of Internet communications and must be updated to protect online privacy."
Decision in U.S. v. Councilman (PDF file).