Court Bars Subpeona of Ex-Employees' Emails

     CHICAGO (CN) - An insurance company may not subpoena Yahoo and Verizon for the private email and phone records of two employees who allegedly formed a rival insurance firm while still working for the former, a magistrate judge ruled.
     Special Markets Insurance Consultants (SMIC) says it provides liability and medical insurance for thousands of schools, day cares and independent athletic associations, according to its website.
     In 2011, it sued Kent and Joanna Lynch for allegedly breaching their employment contracts by forming a competing entity while still employed at SMIC.
     The company subsequently subpoenaed Verizon Wireless and Yahoo, Inc. for the Lynches personal e-mail and cell-phone records.
     The subpoena sent to Verizon requires the company to produce information related to three separate telephone numbers and to provide all incoming and outgoing voice and text messages since January 2012.
     The subpoena to Yahoo requested "[t]he complete e-mail records, including electronic messages, e-mail contents, and any attachments to any email, which was sent from or received by any account holders ... from September 1, 2010 to date."
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Brown granted the Lynches' motion to quash the subpoenas and ordered Verizon and Yahoo not to comply with them.
     "The Lynches argue - correctly - that the subpoenas violate the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which states that an entity providing an 'electronic communication service to the public shall not knowingly divulge to any person or entity the contents of a communication while in electronic storage by that service ...' The SCA contains several enumerated exceptions to that prohibition, but a civil subpoena is not among them," she held.
     "The purpose of the SCA is to create a 'zone of privacy to protect internet subscribers from having their personal information wrongfully used and publicly disclosed by unauthorized private parties,'" Brown said, quoting precedent.
     She continued: "That rationale applies equally to the text messages communicated through Verizon's services and technology. Allowing subpoenas like the ones here would eviscerate the SCA's purpose."
     The judge further found that "the scope of the subpoenas is grossly overbroad, encompassing all the content of the Lynches' e-mail on their personal accounts for a year-and-a half, and all text messages since January 2012."
     "The fact that SMIC's subpoenas are almost certain to produce many irrelevant personal communications as well as privileged communications is not, however, a justification for allowing them. Discovery must be 'reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.' A subpoena for everything on an e-mail account and all text messages is not 'reasonably calculated,'" Brown concluded.