A recent court decision has granted e-mail the same 4th Amendment protection as your home and your phone calls.
From Bruce Schneier’s Blog:
This is a great piece of news in the U.S. For the first time, e-mail has been granted the same constitutional protections as telephone calls and personal papers: the police need a warrant to get at it. Now it’s only a circuit court decision — the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio — it’s pretty narrowly defined based on the attributes of the e-mail system, and it has a good chance of being overturned by the Supreme Court…but it’s still great news.
The way to think of the warrant system is as a security device. The police still have the ability to get access to e-mail in order to investigate a crime. But in order to prevent abuse, they have to convince a neutral third party — a judge — that accessing someone’s e-mail is necessary to investigate that crime. That judge, at least in theory, protects our interests.
We can only hope.