Will Court Ruling Protect E-Mail Providers and MSPs?

It seems the entire world is focused on WikiLeaks, privacy and data protection rights. Amid that backdrop, here’s some potentially good news handed down for messaging service providers — constitutionally speaking, that is. A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the government needs a warrant before it can ask e-mail providers to give up customer data, potentially clarifying an important legal question for MSPs and their clients, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Here’s the update.

Long story short, the court ruled that e-mail users have the same expectation of privacy as someone speaking on the phone or sending a letter through the U.S. Postal Service under the U.S Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. The sticking point, according to the EFF, is that the law as currently written doesn’t agree, and enables the government to secretly ask for data.

This is especially important because it potentially answers the question posed by Parallels’ Joshua Beil around the Wikileaks/Amazon Web Services incident of early December 2010: “How should you respond when the Feds come knocking, on any grounds?”

It’s looking like the answer should be: “Come back with a warrant.” But it’s still early days, with many questions left unanswered. For instance, what if it’s not e-mail the Feds are looking for, but rather a database, or a website, or any number of other things? And when the court says “e-mail provider,” are managed hosting providers really covered?

We’ll keep looking for clarification.

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