Let's assume Gerry has a laptop and she lends it to Sarah. Sarah logs into her email account on Gerry's network, does some work and hands it back without logging out of her email. Does since Gerry owns the laptop and pays for the network, does Gerry have the right to read Sarah's email?

If not, why does this differ from the rights of companies to read private emails?

Note: I realize that most companies merely read the traffic that includes personal emails or any personal saved email files.

  • The rights of a company to read private emails stem from the company's ownership of said emails, as governed by their privacy policy and privacy law and permissions granted, and any legal requirement that they do so. – Nij Apr 27 '17 at 4:38
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    @Nij: True. Also note that some jurisdictions protect private emails even if they are written or stored on a company computer. This is the case in Germany, for example. – sleske Apr 27 '17 at 8:23

The Stored Communications Act makes it a crime to "intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided". The law also continues "and thereby obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system". The relevance of this is that, as noted in this article, services like Yahoo and Gmail did not exist when the law was passed, so the law is not completely clear about whether email on a remote server is "in electronic storage" – the article points to 4 decisions saying it is, and 4 saying it is not. Assuming that SCOTUS does not elect to decide the matter and Congress does not rewrite the law, then it's not presently possible to determine whether such access is legal or illegal (though state privacy laws might be relevant).

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