COMPUTER ELECTRONIC MAIL AND PRIVACY
Ruel T. Hernandez
801 Cedarbend Way
Chula Vista, California 92010
(619) 421-6517 (voice)
(GEnie Mail: R.HERNANDEZ)
January 11, 1987
Copyright (c) 1986, 1987 by Ruel T. Hernandez
(This is an edited version of a law school seminar paper I wrote at
California Western School of Law.
A another version of the paper, entitled
"Electronic Mail - Your Right to Privacy," by Ruel T. Hernandez as told to
Dan Gookin, was published as the cover story in The Byte Buyer, San Diego's
Microcomputer Magazine, volume 4, number 24, December 5, 1986.
may also be found on their BBS at 619/226-3304 or 619/573-0359.
citations to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 refer to the
final version passed by the House of Representatives on October 2, 1986,
which was passed by the Senate the day before, as listed in the
Two years ago, legislation was introduced into Congress that sought to
provide federal statutory guidelines for privacy protection of computer
communications, such as electronic mail found on commercial computer systems
and on remote computer systems, commonly known as bulletin board systems
Old federal wiretap law only gave protection to normal audio
There was no contemplation of computers or their
operators using telephone lines to communicate.
The old federal wiretap law
regulated police interceptions of communications while they are being
transmitted on a telephone line.
Before the Electronic Communications
Privacy Act of 1976, the law did not provide guidelines for protecting the
transmitted message once it was stored within a computer system.
(1) Whether electronic mail and other intended private material stored
within an electronic computer communication system have Fourth Amendment
(2) Should private electronic mail and other such material be accorded
the protection guidelines as with telephone communication and the U.S. Mail?
Law enforcement seeks criminal evidence stored as E-Mail on either a
local, user-supported BBS, or on a commercial computer service, such as
CompuServe, GEnie or The Source.
(Note, this situation is equally
applicable to personal, private data stored on a remote system for later