• United States

Court rules e-mailing is not trespassing

Jul 10, 20032 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalwareMessaging Apps

* What the California Supreme Court’s decision about e-mail means

Last week, the California Supreme Court ruled that spammers are not liable under the state’s trespassing laws simply because a spammer sends e-mail to someone.

The case had been brought by Intel, which sued a former employee for sending e-mails to thousands of current Intel employees. It was particularly interesting because the case had the potential of opening a new avenue for the prosecution of spammers.

But the court ruled that because Intel’s e-mail network had not been harmed by the former employee, trespass of Intel’s e-mail network had not actually occurred. The court declined “to adopt a rule treating computer servers as real property for purposes of trespass law.”

However, imagine if that employee had walked into Intel’s many facilities around the world, used Intel’s photocopiers to print critical messages about the company, and then personally distributed those messages to thousands of Intel employees. I believe that the court would have found that behavior to be objectionable and the perpetrator would have been guilty of trespass.

I also believe the court’s decision significantly aids spammers’ ability to continue doing what they do because it prevents a company from determining what it will and will not allow to be transmitted over its e-mail network, at least in California.

Although spam messages are electronic, they do consume physical resources like storage and bandwidth, not to mention recipients’ time in reacting to the messages. While I’m not a big fan of antispam laws – because I think they’re largely going to be ineffective and will have a number of unforeseen consequences – I believe companies and others should have the right to determine what they will allow to be transmitted over their networks and other computing resources.

I’d like to get your thoughts on the California Supreme Court’s ruling. Please drop me a line at