Landmark ruling in email case

Harassing email pest linked to Hotmail account after £100,000 investigation
Written by Will Knight, Contributor

An irked ex-worker has been found guilty of sending harassing emails to former colleagues in a case that is expected to set a precedent in Britain for computer crime investigations.

David Frankl sent email messages discrediting his ex-boss from a Hotmail account which he believed would be untraceable. After his old company won court orders forcing Microsoft and ISP CompuServe to cooperate with an investigation, however, the mail was traced to a laptop used by Frankl.

Evidently aggrieved with his old boss Brain Corfe, at Japanese building firm Takenaka, Frankl posed as a woman named "Christina" and falsely accused Corfe of having an affair as well as fathering an illegitimate child. Investigators were able to link the email messages to a specific computer and Internet account with the help of Microsoft, which operates Hotmail, and CompuServe.

This is the first time a UK court has forced a company to cooperate with the police to trace the identity of someone from a free email account. Observers believe it could start a trend for investigations into email harassment while legal experts believe that the case will put off would-be email pests.

"It would be good if the message got out that just by using anonymous email you will not be protected," says George Gardiner, an expert in computer law at Tarlo-Lyons law firm. "There are many technically clever people out there that can track you down."

Frankl has maintained his innocence throughout the court case, despite the considerable digital evidence against him. A High Court judge found Frankl guilty and ordered him to pay £1,000 to Takenaka and £25,000 to Mr Corfe, as well as £50,000 towards the cost of the investigation.

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