Email monitoring of deployed troops not subject to Fourth Amendment – Fourth Circuit

Aikens v. Ingram.

Aikens, a N.C. National Guard member, sued under 42 USC 1983, claiming that two officers had violated his Fourth Amendment rights by monitoring his emails.

At the time, Aikens was deployed, using a Department of Defense computer. The defendants allegedly monitored his emails in order to find incriminating correspondence that they could then forward to Aikens’ superiors.

The Fourth Circuit invoked the Feres Doctrine, which says that there can be no Federal Tort Claims Act liability for  actions “incident to” military service. That is, by being in the service, soldiers inherently accept that certain civilian rights are sacrificed.

The Court then concluded that any alleged injury here arose from activity incident to service:

Appellant was on active duty, deployed in a war zone, and used a computer system set up by the DOD for military personnel deployed at Camp Doha. His computer usage was indisputably regulated by AR 380-19, which clearly stated that the system was to be used “only for authorized U.S. government use”; use of the system, “authorized or unauthorized,” constituted “consent to monitoring”; and “all communications over the DOD system [could] be monitored.” J.A. 307. Taking Appellant’s allegations as true, Ingram and von Jess directed Jones and McCarthy to monitor Appellant’s emails on this DOD computer system and forward them along because they wished to enact revenge against him. Appellant may claim that this is an “egregious . . . infringement” of his rights, Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction at 622, but there is no question that the alleged infringement occurred incident to Appellant’s military service.

Because the monitoring was incident to service, there could be no claim. Essentially, there is no civil liability for alleged Fourth Amendment violations arising from monitoring deployed troops’ emails.