Phil raises an interesting question in a comment to the last post. He asks if emails taken from a server are not more like taking letters from your house using a search warrant than intercepting communications which would come under the RIPA law.
Having checked the text of the RIPA Act again it seems that three things need to be demonstrated for it to kick in. The interception has to be “intentional”, “without lawful authority” and “in the course of transmission”. The first two points will only be established in the context of the Indymedia case when we know who requested the disks, what they were looking for on them, and what legal cover they think they had for it.
The question of when an email is “in the course of transmission” is one which I am not sure has been fully tested in the courts yet (any lawyers please advise). An IMAP server in particular is both a part of the transmission system and a storage system. I do not think it can be entirely excluded from the protections of RIPA or that would seriously weaken the measures in a way which was not, I believe, intended.
The question is whether mails on the server are like letters at the local postal sorting office and therefore fully protected as being in the public the transmission system or like letters in a filing system at home that would not be covered by RIPA and could be seized on a normal search warrant. The reality is that both analogies from the paper world could apply. Technology as ever challenges traditional definitions.
It may be that there is already case law in this area that would clarify the matter. If not, then it will sadly be through cases like this that we may come to define what constitutes an email “transmission” system for the purposes of RIPA protections.