Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Release

EFF Urges CA Supreme Court to Review E-mail Pamphleteer Case

Lower Court Decision Threatens Internet Commerce and Speech

For Immediate Release: Friday, February 1, 2002

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today asked the California Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that companies can sue those who send unwanted e-mail to their employees. EFF filed an amicus letter in the Intel v. Hamidi case, arguing that the lower court distorted the "trespass to chattels" doctrine when applying it to the Internet.

The case arises from six e-mail messages sent by ex-employee Ken Hamidi during a two-year period to worldwide employees of Intel criticizing the company's treatment of its employees.

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 EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "Anyone who sends e-mail messages after having been told not to could risk a 'trespass' lawsuit from recipients."

Judge Kolkey, one of the judges in the Third District Court of Appeal, 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 fiance not to call again and violently hangs up the phone. Fifteen minutes later the phone rings. Her fiance wishing to make up? No, tresspass to chattel."

The latest EFF letter supports the petition for review filed last week by Ken Hamidi, who has been enjoined from sending e-mail to Intel employees at their Intel e-mail addresses. Hamidi is represented by William McSwain of the Dechert law firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

About EFF:

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:


Lee Tien, EFF Senior First Amendment Attorney
  +1 415-436-9333 x102