Electronic Frontier Foundation Media ReleaseCalifornia Court Decides E-mail Pamphleteer Case
You Could Be Sued for Sending Unwanted E-mail
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, December 11, 2001
Sacramento, California - A split California Court of Appeal decided yesterday that companies can sue those who send unwanted e-mail to their employees once the company warns them not to send more e-mail.
The case, called Intel v. Hamidi, arises from six e-mail messages sent by Ken Hamidi during a two-year period to worldwide employees of Intel. The messages admittedly did no harm to Intel's computer systems and caused no delays in its computer services. Nonetheless, in a 34 page opinion, the Third Appellate District Court in California ruled that sending unwanted e-mails was an illegal "trespass."
"If left standing, this ruling effectively breaks the Internet," said Cindy Cohn, Legal Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which submitted an amicus brief in the case. "Anyone who sends e-mail messages after having been told not to could risk a lawsuit from recipients."
"Mr. Hamidi is a high-tech pamphleteer. An injunction preventing him from sending his messages when those messages did not harm Intel's computer system violates his First Amendment rights," added Ann Brick of the ACLU of Northern California, who argued the case on behalf of Hamidi. The ACLU also submitted an amicus brief in the case.
One of the judges dissented from the majority and, agreeing with the ACLU and EFF, wrote:
"Under Intel's theory, even lovers' quarrels could turn into trespass suits by reason of the receipt of unsolicited letters or calls from the jilted lover. Imagine what happens after the angry lover tells her fiancée not to call again and violently hangs up the phone. Fifteen minutes later the phone rings. Her fiancée wishing to make up? No, tresspass to chattel."
Documents related to the Intel v. Hamidi case:
Former and Current Employees of Intel website:
ACLU brief in Intel v. Hamidi case:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading civil liberties organization working to protect rights in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and challenges industry and government to support free expression, privacy, and openness in the information society. EFF is a member-supported organization and maintains one of the most linked-to Web sites in the world:
Cindy Cohn, EFF Legal Director
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