• Over a hundred cases are pending from the wave of privacy class actions that commenced last year alleging violations of state wiretap statutes based on use of website session replay, chatbot and pixel technologies.
  • Plaintiffs’ firms are continuing to file new cases based on chatbot and pixel tech despite an increasing number of dismissals while also trying new approaches focused on email marketing tech and identity graphing.

Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California recently dismissed a putative class action lawsuit in which plaintiffs claimed they faced an imminent threat of future of harm in the form of identity theft and fraud because their personal information, specifically their driver’s license numbers, may have been compromised

In a recent decision, the Ninth Circuit held that “the ECPA unambiguously applies to foreign citizens.” In Suzlon Energy Ltd. v. Microsoft, Suzlon Energy demanded Microsoft to produce emails from the Hotmail email account of an Indian citizen imprisoned abroad. The district court held that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) prohibited Microsoft from producing the documents even though the individual was not a U.S. citizen. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

In an important decision for employers, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a case involving an employee’s assertion that a government employer had violated the Fourth Amendment by unreasonably obtaining and reviewing personal text messages sent and received on employer-issued pagers. The decision, a victory for employers, provides helpful guidance for management of electronic communication systems and workplace searches. Read this alert to learn more about the decision and how it may affect you.

On May 28, 2010, in an unpublished decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the California district court’s dismissal of a class action lawsuit against retailer Gap, Inc. because, among other things, the plaintiff failed to show that the loss of his personal information harmed him in a legally cognizable way. The Ninth Circuit’s decision echoes those issued in every “identity exposure” lawsuit to date: an increased risk of identity theft does not a lawsuit make!

On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit denied rehearing en banc in Quon v. Arch Wireless, previously discussed here. The dissent (1) disagrees with the panel’s conclusion that the SWAT team members had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the text messages on the grounds that the decision undermines the standard established by the Supreme Court in O’Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709 (1987); and (2) finds that the method used by the panel to determine whether the search was reasonable conflicts with Supreme Court precedent holding that the Fourth Amendment does not require the government to use the “least intrusive means” when conducting a “special needs” search. The dissent can be found here. Judge Wardlaw’s concurrence in the denial of rehearing en banc can be found here. We will keep you posted on this one.

In a novel case, the Ninth Circuit ruled on July 6, as amended July 25, that government surveillance of Internet Protocol (“IP”) addresses visited, to/from addresses of emails, and the total volume of information sent to or from an email account does not violate the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Forrester, No. 05-50410, — F.3d — (9th Cir. July 6, 2007). The ruling does not affect the requirement that the government obtain a search warrant before searching the actual content of that Internet traffic.

The defendant in United States v. Forrester, Dennis Louis Alba, was charged and convicted of various federal offenses relating to the operation of an Ecstasy-manufacturing laboratory. During the government’s investigation of Alba, it installed a device on Alba’s computer that gathered the IP addresses of the websites he visited, the to/from addresses of his emails, and the total volume of information sent to or from his email account. In his appeal, Alba contended that the surveillance constituted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment and fell outside of the then-applicable pen register statute. The Ninth Circuit addressed the merits of Alba’s first contention, but found it unnecessary to address the second.

The Ninth Circuit applied the Supreme Court’s analysis in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), in which the Court held that a pen register does not constitute a Fourth Amendment search. The Court so held because pen registers merely track phone numbers dialed and do not reveal the actual contents of conversations. Cf. Katz v. United States, 289 U.S. 347 (1967) (holding that one can have legitimate expectation of privacy in the contents of one’s phone conversations).  The Ninth Circuit reasoned that the government’s surveillance of Alba’s activity was “constitutionally indistinguishable” from surveillance via a pen register because accessing IP addresses involves the transmission and receipt of a unique identifier, which does not reveal actual content, via the third-party equipment of an internet service provider.  An Internet user therefore does not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the IP addresses he or she accesses.