CINCINNATI (AP) _ Federal investigators overstepped constitutional bounds by searching e-mails without a warrant during a fraud investigation related to an herbal supplement company known for its ``Smiling Bob'' ads, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court ruling temporarily blocking investigators from additional e-mail searches in the case against Steven Warshak, owner and president of Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals.
Warshak, whose company markets supplements that include a ``natural male enhancement'' product called Enzyte, argued that his Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated when the government went after his e-mail records.
``The district court correctly determined that e-mail users maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of their e-mails,'' Judge Boyce Martin said in a case closely watched by civil-liberties advocates in the still-emerging field of Internet privacy.
Warshak has pleaded not guilty to charges that he and his business defrauded customers and banks out of at least $100 million in an alleged scheme that included billing credit cards without authorization.