Intel v. Hamidi case tests Net freedoms
Chipzilla vs. free speech (and comparative shopping)
California's Supreme Court this week began hearing a case that will test the legitimacy of using bulk mail as a protest tactic.
The hearing comes after two lower courts ruled that Intel was within its rights in taking legal action against a worker who protested against his dismissal by the company by spamming his former colleagues.
Former Intel engineer Ken Hamidi sent "six email messages critical of Intel's employment practices to up to 30,000 employees between 1996 and 1998 after being fired following a disability leave," Reuters reports.
Intel's lawyers are argue that Hamidi's behaviour is damaging the operation of its internal email system, its private property.
Hamidi's legal team counter-argue that granting an injunction against their client would stifle his rights and set a dangerous precedent against free speech.
His lawyers argue that Intel has failed to show any damage to its systems as a result of Hamidi's spamming campaign.
"The only alleged damage they claim was that it distracted people," co-defence attorney Olson told the Supreme Court this week, Reuters reports.
"If the court rules in favour of Intel every time a large company doesn't like the content of what someone says in an e-mail they're going to try to get an injunction," he added.
Internet rights campaigners, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are watching the case closely amid concern a ruling against Hamidi may hamstring political protests on the Internet.
It is also concerned that the case might set a dangerous precedent in other areas.
In reaching their rulings in favour of Intel courts misapplied the "trespass to chattels" doctrine to the Internet, the EFF argues.
Several companies have stopped competitors from gathering comparative price information from Web site using this same "trespass to chattels" doctrine. But these activities help consumers, the EFF believes.
The California Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case within the next three months. ®
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