[ISN] E-Mail Snooping Ruled Permissible

From: InfoSec News (isn@private)
Date: Thu Jul 01 2004 - 04:33:11 PDT

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    Forwarded from: Marjorie Simmons <lawyer@private>
    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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