In Crispin v. Audigier Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52832 (C.D. Cal. May 26, 2010) the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled that third-party civil discovery subpoenas issued to Web mail service providers and providers of social networking services is unenforceable under the Stored Communications Act.
The Crispin decision is worth looking at because the court promulgated an extensive analysis of the applicability of the Stored Communications Act (SCA) to recent technologies including web mail and social networking sites (ex: Facebook). It is important to note that the SCA was drafted before these technologies were in mainstream use and as such this court’s handling of the SCA can be likened to the historical handling by the U.S. legislature and the U.S. judicial system of the interaction between other developing technologies and aging rules and regulations.
“The court noted that the SCA prohibits a provider of an "electronic communications service" (ECS) from knowingly divulging the contents of a communication while it is in "electronic storage," and similarly prohibits a provider of a "remote communications service" (RCS) from knowingly divulging the contents of communications carried or maintained on that service. The court concluded that a Web mail provider or a social networking service that provides internal e-mail services can be both an ECS and an RCS within the meaning of the SCA, and that both unread and read mail on such services is protected from disclosure. The court also concluded that information on social network services, such as pages and comments, are protected from disclosure via third-party subpoena to the extent that access to them is limited by the user's privacy settings and they are not available to the general public.”