Generally speaking, you have a right to privacy
when it comes to your email
account, except when you're accused of a crime and there's a warrant. That's basically what a New York judge ruled when he upheld a previous order giving the U.S. government full access to the Gmail
account of a suspect in a money laundering investigation.
At issue here is a controversial warrant granted on June 11 that permitted law enforcement to siphon a suspect's entire Gmail account, including his address book and draft emails, in order to search the emails for evidence in his alleged crime.
Though the warrant has been upheld, it remains controversial since it's at odds with decisions in several other courts, Info World
reports. For example, a court in Kansas struck down a similar warrant because it failed to "limit the universe of electronic communications and information to be turned over to the government to the specific crimes being investigated."
Nevertheless, Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York likened the seizure of email accounts to that of storage devices in which it wouldn't be practical to perform an on-site search.
"We perceive no constitutionally significant difference between the searches of hard drives just discussed and searches of email accounts," the judge wrote. "Indeed, in many cases, the data in an email account will be less expansive than the information that is typically contained on a hard drive."
In another case, the District Court of Columbia gave the government the option of having the email host search the emails for the evidence it was looking for. Judge Gorenstein addressed such a proposition, noting that Google's employees aren't trained in investigating emails for crime. Whereas a detective might recognize a seemingly innocuous reference to "dolls" as being code for "cocaine," a Google employee would skip right over it.