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January 2, 2007

Government Says Email is Same as e-Postcard

It was Robert Burns, I think, who wrote the poetic line "My love is like a red, red rose."  Now the government is saying your email is like an e-postcard, and easily gathered for prosecuting a case.  This is the news about a curious argument government lawyers are making in the case of FTC v. Steve Warshack et al. Warshack is the man behind the Enzyte commercials ("Meet Bob...") that claim the product is an effective alternative to Viagra and other pharmaceuticals. The FTC disagrees with that claim, among others, and filed suit against Warshack and his companies.

Part of the proof the government needs is apparently in Warshack's email. They got a court order to get access to his accounts and Warshack challenged the order, saying the government should have used a search warrant instead. The government counters that the mail in question is similar to an e-postcard that doesn't require any effort to open. Warshack's email is on Yahoo and the claim is that the content is held by a third party rather than on one of Warshack's own machine, meaning there is less of a privacy expectation under these circumstances.

No ruling on the motion yet. An adverse ruling for Warshack may send lots of people back to downloading webmail via Pop 3 clients, or whatever. Somehow I've never thought of my mail as an e-postcard as free as the proverbial bird for anyone to glance at. While it would be nice to put (alleged) scam artists out of business, how hard would it have been to get a search warrant and avoid this mess

The story is in Ars Technica The FTC suit documents (complaint and press release) are available here.

January 2, 2007 | Permalink

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