It appears that US judges are debating amongst themselves about whether they can give cops warrants to snuffle emails. Last week a federal judge in New York has granted prosecutors access to a Gmail user's emails as part of a money-laundering probe.
Judge Gabriel Gorenstein authorised the warrant to be served on Google for the emails and admitted that his decision ran counter to several other judges' rulings in similar cases. Other judges have been concerned that sweeping warrants give the government improper access to too many emails, not just relevant ones. Gorenstein said the law lets investigators review broad swaths of documents to decide which are covered by warrants.
The ruling came three months after Judge James Francis in New York said prosecutors can force Microsoft to hand over a customer's email stored in an Ireland data centre. Microsoft has appealed, in what is seen as the first challenge by a company to a warrant seeking data stored overseas. In June, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled police generally need a warrant to search an arrested suspect's mobile, citing privacy concerns.
What appears to be happening is that several magistrate judges, who typically handle warrant requests are sticking their oar into the debate and handing out different rulings. In April, John Facciola, a magistrate in Washington, DC, rejected a warrant for the Apple email account of a defence contractor as part of a kickback investigation.
In Kansas, a magistrate denied warrant applications for emails and records at Google, Verizon, Yahoo, Microsoft unit Skype and GoDaddy in a stolen computer equipment case.
Both judges said the warrants were overly broad.