Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Release
California Supreme Court to Review E-mail Pamphleteer Case
Lower Court Decision Threatens Internet Commerce and Speech
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, March 27, 2002
San Francisco - The California Supreme Court today agreed to review a lower court ruling that companies can sue those who send unwanted e-mail to their employees. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (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 system-wide 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 of California ruled that sending unwanted e-mails was an illegal "trespass."
"When Hamidi sent those e-mails, he didn't trespass on Intel's property," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "We are pleased the Supreme Court has agreed to review this case."
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, trespass to chattel."
Opening briefs in the case will be due approximately April 28, 2002.
Hamidi is represented by William McSwain of the Dechert law firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both EFF and the ACLU, among others, are expected to file amicus briefs in the case.
Documents related to Intel v. Hamidi case:
Trespass to chattels analysis:
Intel v. Hamidi website:
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 websites in the world:
Lee Tien, EFF Senior First Amendment Attorney
Cindy Cohn, EFF Legal Director
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