CategoriesLaw & TechnologyPrivacy Law
This Note identifies the divided jurisprudence surrounding the protection of opened emails from unauthorized access under the Stored Communications Act and advocates for the interpretation espoused by the Fourth Circuit’s 2019 decision in Hately v. Watts. The traditional view of the Stored Communications Act, as employed by the Department of Justice, neither sufficiently protects opened emails nor reflects the modern usage of email inboxes. While the Eighth and Ninth Circuits have previously attempted to expand protection to opened emails by prioritizing user intent, such a standard has proved difficult to manage and has resulted in disparate outcomes depending on whether one uses a desktop-based or web-based email provider. The Fourth Circuit’s decision in Hately protects opened emails regardless of email platform, but it accomplishes this task by stretching legislative intent to its limit. As a result, the unauthorized access provisions of the Stored Communications Act have been fractured into at least three different interpretations and require a resolution by the Supreme Court or revision by Congress to uniformly protect emails nationwide.