There is another question here that asks something similar, but apparently it refers to the US, where secrecy of correspondence doesn't seem to exist, at least according to this article on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secrecy_of_correspondence

In several European countries that principle is included though. According to that article, it probably started as a principle that applied to paper mail and phone calls, but has been extended to other forms of communication on the internet (email, etc.).

So, if you are a system administrator who owns a server which is used to provide an email service, can you ever read some of the emails sent by a user to another user? If you are a sysadmin who owns a forum or a social network that allows its members to send private messages to each other, can you ever read some of those messages? For example, somebody might report a TOS violation to you, or even a possible crime, so for example you might be told that John Doe is sending malware via private messages or emails, and you might want to look into it and end up reading some of them. This might sound like a legitimate interest of the sysadmin, if it wasn't for that principle of secrecy of correspondence. I might be wrong, but it sounds like a sysadmin would need some kind of warrant in such cases.

Jurisdictions: the European countries that have secrecy of correspondence in the constitution. If you want to add some info about the US by comparison, that'll be interesting as well.

1 Answer 1


The mistake you are making is in assuming this correspondence belongs to the user - it doesn’t.

Emails sent under a business mail server belong to the business. Messages posted on social media belong to the social media company.

  • But then why don't phone calls belong to the phone company? The phone company or the ISP can't read your data without a warrant, as far as I know, at least in countries where the secrecy of correspondence is in the constitution. So what's the difference? I might be able to understand the argument if we were only talking about a private communication service, like email accounts only used by employees. But everyone is allowed to sign up to a social network or an email service like Gmail, so that makes them virtually as public as a phone company.
    – reed
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 15:58
  • Yes, everyone is allowed to sign up - if they accept the ToS in which you allow them to read your correspondence. There’s also differences in law between recording speech and reading documents. And phone companies and ISPs are public utilities, social media companies aren’t.
    – Dale M
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 21:17

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