Despite being told from the outset that e-mail is no different than mailing a postcard, the NYTimes speaks out against the decision this week on the presumption of (a lack of) privacy in e-mail communication — of course, systematic incterception is a little broader problem than the postcard metaphor can accomodate: Intercepting E-Mail
Sounds ludicrous? We would have thought so, too, but a federal appeals court recently ruled that companies providing e-mail services could read clients’ e-mail notes and use them as they wish. Part of its rationale was that none of this would shock you because you have never expected much online privacy.
Count us among the shocked. The decision, on a 2-to-1 vote by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Massachusetts, sets up a frightening precedent, one that must be reversed by the courts, if not the Congress. It’s true that people are aware of some limits on online privacy, particularly in the workplace. But the notion that a company like America Online, essentially a common carrier, has the right to read private e-mail is ludicrous.
Update: See Ernest’s take — E-Mail Wiretap Decision: Out of the Wiretap Frying Pan, Into the Copyright Fire
Later: Eff’s Deep Links — NYT on U.S. v. Councilman