[ISN] E-Mail Snooping Ruled Permissible

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Thu Jul 1 07:33:11 EDT 2004

Forwarded from: Marjorie Simmons <lawyer at carpereslegalis.com>


By Kim Zetter
June 30, 2004

E-mail privacy suffered a serious setback on Tuesday when a court of
appeals ruled that an e-mail provider did not break the law in reading
his customers' communications without their consent.

The First Court of Appeals in Massachusetts ruled that Bradford C.  
Councilman did not violate criminal wiretap laws when he
surreptitiously copied and read the mail of his customers in order to
monitor their transactions.

Councilman, owner of a website selling rare and out-of-print books,
offered book dealer customers e-mail accounts through his site. But
unknown to those customers, Councilman installed code that intercepted
and copied any e-mail that came to them from his competitor,
Amazon.com. Although Councilman did not prevent the mail from reaching
recipients, he read thousands of copied messages in order to know what
books customers were seeking and gain a commercial advantage over

Authorities charged Councilman with violating the Wiretap Act, which
governs unauthorized interception of communication. But the court
found that because the e-mails were already in the random access
memory, or RAM, of the defendant's computer system when he copied
them, he did not intercept them while they were in transit over wires
and therefore did not violate the Wiretap Act, even though he copied
the messages before the intended recipients read them. The court ruled
that the messages were in storage rather than transit.

The court acknowledged in its decision
http://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/03-1383-01A.pdf that the
Wiretap Act, written before the advent of the Internet, was perhaps
inadequate to address modern communication methods. . . .

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