For Immediate Release: Monday, June 30, 2003

California Supreme Court Sides With Email Pamphleteer

Intel v. Hamidi Decision Protects Internet Speech

Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Release

Los Angeles - The California Supreme Court today ruled that former Intel employee Ken Hamidi did not "trespass" on Intel's computers when he sent email messages to Intel employees at work.

The case, called Intel v Hamidi, arises from six firmwide email messages sent by Ken Hamidi during a two-year period to thousands of Intel employees worldwide. The messages admittedly did no harm to Intel's computer systems and caused no delays in its computer services. Intel's only claim of harm was that the employees who read Hamidi's email were distracted or upset or lost productivity.

The Supreme Court stated that the legal claim of trespass to chattels requires damage to Intel's computers or their usefulness, not just distraction or loss of productivity due to employees reading messages that criticized Intel. The decision noted that calling distressing content of a message a "trespass" on the computer was as wrong as claiming that "the personal distress caused by reading an unpleasant letter would be an injury to the recipient's mailbox, or the loss of privacy caused by an intrusive telephone call would be an injury to the recipient's telephone equipment."

"The California Supreme Court today protected the rights of those who send email by refusing to extend the trespass to chattels doctrine to electronic communications that do not harm property," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien.

"The Hamidi case establishes that even if you send electronic communications after recipients tell you not to, you are likely protected from spurious trespass lawsuits as long as there is no harm to computer systems as a direct result of the electronic communications," added EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Recipients of unwanted email may pursue legal claims other than trespass in certain circumstances and can pursue even trespass claims in the event of damage to their computer systems."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had filed an amicus brief in the Intel v. Hamidi case, arguing that the lower court distorted the "trespass to chattels" doctrine when applying it to the Internet. EFF noted that the doctrine has already been used by companies in several cases around the country to stop competitors from gathering comparative price information from websites, something that is generally viewed as assisting consumers.


Lee Tien
  Senior Staff Attorney
  Electronic Frontier Foundation
  +1 415 436-9333 x102 (office)

Cindy Cohn
  Legal Director
  Electronic Frontier Foundation
  +1 415 436-9333 x108 (office)