Email snooping: Could Intel case set a precedent?

Can employers stop you emailing their staff? Is it really trespassing if you do?

Can employers stop you emailing their staff? Is it really trespassing if you do?

The outcome of a lawsuit between Intel and a former employee could have far-reaching implications for the way email communications are protected. Disgruntled former Intel employee Ken Hamidi waged an email campaign against the chip firm, contacting staff at its US headquarters warning about poor working conditions and treatment by the Intel bosses. However, Hamidi's ex bosses soon caught wind of his ploy and the matter went to court. Now Intel is expected to ask the California Supreme Court to uphold an earlier legal ruling which found Hamidi guilty of trespassing on its servers by sending thousands of emails to staff at work. Hamidi will ask that the decision be overturned, citing the US Constitution's First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech. The case goes beyond one man's colourful attempts to discredit a giant of the technology sector. The case could set a precedent governing how people are allowed to communicate over private email systems. Cindy Cohn, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which submitted a brief on behalf of Hamidi, said the case threatens internet communications of all types. She said: "If the court upholds the ruling, it will create an internet in which your attempt to communicate with people is dependent on their consent." But Intel argues the case is not about free speech, but trespassing - denting productivity in the same way that spam and other unsolicited communications would. An Intel spokesman said Hamidi has maintained plenty of avenues to get his message out, including websites and publicity stunts involving riding to Intel headquarters on horseback to deliver his messages in person on a computer disk. The spokesman said: "He's been very persistent about this. We have not made any attempt in all this time to restrict his attempts to say what's on his mind."