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By Ezra Brook (Click here for all articles by this author)
The South Carolina Supreme Court Says Hacking Email Accounts is Fine. Do you Agree?
Note: Decision link is found at the bottom of this post
The South Carolina (SC) Supreme Court has ruled that email stored in public email service providing companies, like Google, Yahoo, Hotmail and other similar web-based email services are not considered as “Electronic Storage”. And as a result, the SC court says, such emails are not protected by the “Stored Communications Act” (SCA).
The ruling was in the case M. Lee Jennings Vs. Gail M. Jennings, Holly Broom, Brenda Cooke, International Detective Agency Inc. for hacking into M. Lee Jennings’ Yahoo email account.
In the past, the same court ruled that emails at issue were in “electronic storage”, thus protected under the SCA. However, this week, the ruling has been reversed. The defendants had successfully reasoned with the judges, that “the court had misunderstood the definition of “electronic storage” under the Act and incorrectly concluded the e-mails had been stored for the purpose of backup protection”.
I personally don’t delete my important emails so that I get to see them whenever I need to. That means, I am using my opened emails as backups of the communications I received. Whether temporary, or long term backups, I keep my important emails in my inbox. Some of my opened emails go back as far as 10 years.
The United States code under the SCA (Stored Communications Act) defines “electronic storage” in section 2510 (17) as follows:
(17) “electronic storage” means—
The conclusion by the courts is that electronic emails do not fall under the above definition.
Now we know what the codes say about electronic storage. How do you define backup? How do courts define backup? I am not a lawyer, but I believe defining these terms won’t be too difficult. But, by focusing on definitions of terms written long time ago, someone who hacked an email account has gotten away with it. So, is there an alternate remedy? What is the option left for M. Lee Jennings now? Can he sue the hacker(s) under a different code? Perhaps, the “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act”? If you are a lawyer, please enlighten us.
If you have a very sensitive communication, consider signing up with self-destructing email service providers. Such emails will expire at pre-set time or after a number of views.
Here is the Decision:
Click here to view the full ruling [PDF file, 14 pages]
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