Police power to access personal email has been reinforced after a High Court ruling that NTL did not break the law when it intercepted emails at the request of police.
The telecoms company had approached the High Court with its concern that it might have acted illegally by intercepting and storing emails without the consent of a customer under police investigation for fraud.
Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that NTL had lawful authority to intercept the email at the request of police after it had received notification that a special production order was being sought from the courts.
A notice had been served on NTL by Suffolk Police to re-route and store electronic data over a 10-day period last year so that they could obtain access to the emails of a user under investigation for fraud.
NTL lawyers argued that the company would be committing an offence under Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 if it complied with the notice, because it has a policy to automatically destroy emails once a user had accessed them.
But Lord Woolf ruled that because Suffolk Police's request for help was sanctioned by Ipswich Crown Court, NTL was not guilty of an offence.
An NTL spokeswoman said: "We pursued the case because there was some ambiguity in the legal framework and we were determined to get legal clarity. Now we have that and know when to pass information on to the authorities."
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