Intel lawsuit calls barring e-mail fair game
(IDG) -- A ruling in an Intel lawsuit against a former employee may set a precedent that will let e-mail service providers ban certain types of messages.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge John Lewis last week ruled that the lawsuit was a case of trespass and that the service provider Intel has the right to get a permanent injunction to keep out e-mail sent by Ken Hamidi.
Hamidi, a former Intel engineer fired in 1996, sent e-mail to 30,000 of Intel's employees on six separate occasions.
Judge Lewis ruled that this e-mail was a trespass, without further explanation, said attorney Shari Steele, who is the director of legal services for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Judge Lewis left determining what e-mail is acceptable to the discretion of the service provider.
Steele hopes that Hamidi will appeal the courts decision. Hamidi has 13 more days in which to submit an appeal.
"At the very least, the appellate court can put severe limit on what it is that makes something a trespass," Steele said. However, she would prefer to have this lawsuit not classified as a trespass.
"Intel could have gone after Hamidi in other ways," she said. The company claimed that Hamidi used an old e-mail list to send mail and they could have sued him for stealing proprietary information.
According to Intel, Hamidi sent e-mail directly to Intel employees, using an internal e-mail address book.
Since Intel's e-mail addresses are not published outside the company, Judge Lewis found this to be an intrusion of private property, said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman.
Intel concedes that Hamidi has a right to express opinions, said Mulloy. Hamidi has disseminated his complaints against Intel's treatment of employees by distributing information on his Web site, FaceIntel.com, on college campuses and has staged public protests at Intel sites.
However, Hamidi's intrusion into Intel's e-mail system is the same thing as bringing a public demonstration inside the company, Mulloy said. "This is where his right to express himself conflicts with Intel's trespass rights."
Going forward Intel hopes Hamidi will comply with the permanent injunction and stop sending e-mail, Mulloy said.
This lawsuit could be a precedent-setting case in the event that Hamidi appeals the judge's permanent motion, Mulloy said.
Hamidi said that he does intend to appeal the court ruling. If necessary, he plans to take his appeals all the way to the California Supreme Court.
This case is the first of its kind and will effect every single American, Hamidi stated. "When some one tries to deliver a speech in a public forum, they (the government) will say 'Intel vs. Hamidi,' you cannot do that."
"Cases like mine educate people and I am determined to stand behind my beliefs," Hamidi said.
"Judge Lewis, who was not Internet savvy or literate enough to understand the difference between real space and cyberspace, said that I was trespassing on Intel's private property," Hamidi said.
E-mail was sent to an ISP mail server, which resides on the Internet and is a public domain, Hamidi said. "The company can not claim privacy on these public systems."
When Intel links their private intranet into the Internet, they are in public ground, Hamidi added. "I have never tried to access, hack or post to it (Intel's network) -- that is a fact."
Hamidi will continue to fight for his freedom of expression and hopes to raise public awareness on the laws that govern cyberspace.
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