Appeals Court Corrects Dangerous Web Privacy Ruling
Judges Agree with EFF Brief in DirecTV Case
San Francisco - The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has corrected a dangerous lower court ruling that threatened Internet privacy. In doing so, it preserved the privacy of password-protected websites as well as the right to read public sites. The decision followed the arguments made in an amicus brief filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
"A real privacy disaster was averted today," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston, who authored the brief. "The court affirmed important legal protections for truly private websites, and also protected your right to read public content on the Internet without getting sued."
The case began when Michael Snow, the publisher of an anti-DirecTV website, sued the company for unauthorized access under the Stored Communications Act (SCA). Snow's site had a banner and purported Terms of Service forbidding DirecTV representatives from entering the site or using its message board, but it was configured such that anyone in the public could do so.
A lower court had rightly dismissed the case, but for the wrong reasons -- holding that the SCA did not protect websites at all, even if they were configured to be private. However, the 11th Circuit clarified that websites are protected by the SCA, except when they are designed to be readily accessible to the general public.
"Through the World Wide Web, individuals can easily and readily access websites hosted throughout the world. Given the Web's ubiquitous and public nature, it becomes increasingly important in cases concerning electronic communications available through the Web for a plaintiff to demonstrate that those communications are not readily accessible," the opinion reads. "If by simply clicking a hypertext link, after ignoring an express warning, on an otherwise publicly accessible webpage, one is liable under the SCA, then the floodgates of litigation would open and the merely curious would be prosecuted. We find no intent by Congress to so permit."
For the full opinion:
For EFF's brief:
Electronic Frontier Foundation