The Secure Times

An online forum of the ABA Section of Antitrust Law's Privacy and Information Security Committee


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Fourth Amendment warrant not required for government surveillance of internet activity to acquire internet users’ email addresses and IP addresses of visited websites.


The government is not required to obtain a warrant to engage in surveillance of internet users to obtain the to/from addresses of their email messages, the IP addresses of visited websites or the total amount of data transmitted to or from a user account, because internet users do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in such information. United States v. Forrester, No.05-50410, 2007 U.S.App. LEXIS 17626 (9th Cir. July 25, 2007) (amended opinion). The court affirmed the lower court’s holding that the government’s monitoring of the defendant’s email and internet activity was not a search under the Fourth Amendment, likening it to a permissible search of dialed telephone numbers and the exterior of sealed postal mail. The court commented that internet and email users should know that email messages are sent and IP addresses are accessed through the equipment of ISPs, requiring people to "voluntarily turn over information to third parties."  The court also concluded that email to/from addresses and IP addresses constitute "addressing information" and do not reveal the contents of e-mails or the particular pages of Web sites viewed.