Skip to main content


U.S. citizens are in a constant battle for their rights to privacy, fighting the government's increasingly pervasive surveillance and justicial needs. One area where court opinions conflict with the public's expectation of privacy is over the realm of personal electronic communications. The general public believes electronic communications must be afforded a certain level of privacy that is not currently recognized by case law or statutes. Under current case law, warrantless searches and seizures of your personal e-mail are not prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment should be your source for protecting your e-mails when you are under scrutiny as a private citizen in a public cyberspace. Regardless of whether you have anything potentially illegal in your e-mail, you suspect that you have the right to be notified by a warrant of any search of your e-mail. A warrantless search of your e-mail, revealing private thoughts and details to strangers, may open you up to the type of indignity similar to that prohibited in Terry v. Ohio. Yet, courts have refused to grant the contents of e mail this Constitutional protection. The remainder of this article will examine the case law and statutes controlling this situation and examine technological implementations that may protect your expectation of privacy in light of your exposure to the eyes of the government. It will then explore this lack of privacy as the type of panoptical society described by the philosophers Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault. Finally, it will close with a discussion of methods of "panoptical prophylaxis"--what extralegal technologies are available to individuals interested in protecting their privacy? Also, this article will discuss the issues of privacy and communications in virtual world environments and their effects on "real world" privacy expectations and protections.


File nameDate UploadedVisibilityFile size
7 Nov 2022
141 kB



  • Subject
    • Fourth Amendment

    • Intellectual Property Law

    • Internet Law

  • Journal title
    • Boston College Intellectual Property and Technology Forum

  • Volume
    • 2008

  • Pagination
    • 1-18

  • Date submitted

    7 November 2022

  • Related URL