STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Civil liberties groups are celebrating. That's because a federal court has handed down a ruling making stored e-mails more private than they used to be.
NPR's Martin Kaste reports.
MARTIN KASTE: You know that stash of ancient e-mails you keep on Hotmail or Gmail or Yahoo? It seems the government has had the power to read those old e-mails without a search warrant. Lawyer Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains why stored e-mails have been less private.
Mr. KEVIN BANKSTON (Staff Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation): To wiretap an e-mail, to grab it while it's in transmission, that requires a wiretap order - sort of like a super search warrant. It's very hard to get. So the government doesn't get those. Instead, they grab the e-mail when it is stored with the e-mail provider.
KASTE: But then the government ran into a fellow named Steven Warshak. He markets herbal supplements, such as something called Enzyte. Warshak found out he was being investigated for fraud, and that investigators had been reading through his old e-mails. He sued, calling the practice unconstitutional. And yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Orin Kerr is a computer crime expert at the George Washington University Law School.
Professor ORIN KERR (Computer Crime Expert, George Washington University Law School): This is a very significant case because it's a very broad ruling, subject to being overturned on appeal. But, nonetheless, the court attempts to answer a lot of questions. And their answer for almost everything is the government needs a warrant before it can access somebody's e-mail.
KASTE: A Justice Department spokesman says the ruling is being reviewed.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.