California court to review e-mail pamphleteer case

ITworld.com |  Business

The California Supreme Court agreed this week to review a lower court's decision that effectively allowed companies to sue those who send unwanted e-mail to their employees, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The case concerns ex-Intel Corp. employee Ken Hamidi, who was sued by the Santa Clara, California, chip maker after he sent six mass e-mail messages to current Intel employees, complaining about the way the company treated its workers.

Intel won an injunction against Hamidi in November of 1998, claiming that he was flooding the company's systems and trespassing on its property. Hamidi then appealed the case, with support from the EFF and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claiming that his free speech was violated.

Last December, the Third Appellate District Court of California ruled that sending the unwanted e-mail was an illegal "trespass," citing an antiquated legal argument called "trespass the chattels."

The "trespass the chattels" doctrine prohibits others from interfering with your personal property. According to the EFF, the interference must be intentional physical contact with someone else's property which results in substantial interference or damage to the property. But civil liberties groups such as the EFF fear that this doctrine applied to the digital world opens the door for any number of claimants who contend that an unwanted e-mail , or search engine crawl served as a trespass on their property.

Opening briefs for the California Supreme Court case will be due about April 28, according to the EFF.

No one from Intel was immediately available to comment on the case Thursday.

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