SW Legal studies in Business

Subpoena Sufficient to Force Most Emails to Be Produced for Authorities

Court held that government investigators had the right to subpoena all emails in the account of a suspect. Emails that are in a system so that they can be retrieved by the subscriber are subject to access by subpoena. A warrant is not required.

Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words

ISP; Email; Subpoena; Warrant; Child Pornography

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Federal authorities were investigating defendant Justin Weaver on a child pornography charge. The government sought to discover the contents of emails it believed Weaver sent or received at a Microsoft/MSN Hotmail account. The government submitted a subpoena for the email records and the court approved. Microsoft failed to produce the content of previously accessed, viewed, or downloaded emails that had been stored for less than six months. The government moved to compel production of that material.


Motion allowed. Under the Stored Communications act, government entities must use a warrant to obtain certain electronic communications. But, they can access other information using only a subpoena. When an electronic communication “has been in electronic storage in an electronic communication system” for at least six months, only a subpoena is necessary. Similarly, only a subpoena, not a warrant, is needed for information stored for less than six months if the information (the emails) are held or maintained only to provide the customer storage or computer processing services. Hence, emails left on an email service for later access by a user can be reached by subpoena.


U.S. v. Weaver, ---F.Supp.2d--- (2009 WL 2163478, C.D. Illinois, 2009)

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