June 29, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

Court Rules Bookseller Can Spy on Email

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit delivered (PDF) some very bad news for online privacy today. Ruling in U.S. v. Councilman, the court held that it was not a violation of criminal wiretap laws for an email service provider to monitor the content of users' incoming messages without their knowledge or consent. The defendant, the seller of rare and used books who offered his customers email accounts, set up a system whereby he received a copy of any email messages they received from the competition -- Amazon.com. As the court itself admitted, "it may well be that the protections of the Wiretap Act have been eviscerated as technology advances."

"By interpreting the Wiretap Act's privacy protections very narrowly, this court has effectively given Internet communications providers free rein to invade the privacy of their users for any reason and at any time," says our own Kevin Bankston. "This decision makes clear that the law has failed to adapt to the realities of Internet communications and must be updated to protect online privacy."

Ruling (PDF); Breaking News item.

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