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Intel scores in email suit

In what could prove to be an influential ruling, Intel wins a court order to halt mass email messages to its employees criticizing the firm.

In what could prove to be an influential ruling, Intel has won a court order to halt mass email messages email messages to its employees criticizing the firm.

The issue at hand is whether one man's tactic to express his public outrage toward his former employer constitutes an expression of free speech or "spam."

Last week, Judge John R. Lewis of the Sacramento County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction against Ken Hamidi, an embittered former Intel employee, mandating that he stop sending email messages to active Intel employees.

Hamidi reportedly attempted to send mass emails to Intel employees on several occasions with successful and unsuccessful results. The most recent incident was three months ago, when he emailed 30,000 Intel employees. His September message contained allegations that Intel supported policies that are abusive and unfair to its employees, as well as claims that the company will cut 10,000 American jobs in 1998 instead of the 3,000 previously announced.

Hamidi, a former Intel engineer, was fired in 1995, whereupon he formed FACE-Intel, or Former and Current Employees-Intel, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Hamidi had attempted to gain compensation after being injured while on the job at Intel.

The email also listed a number of recommendations for Intel employees to take action against the company's alleged improprieties, such as: "Never trust Intel's [human resources] representatives and/or HR attorneys"; "Do not be intimidated by bullies at work"; and "We will establish inside and outside Intel networks."

After having several of his email messages blocked by Intel's firewalls, Hamidi was able to sneak his sixth transmission past Intel's shield by switching servers from which the email messages were sent and changing his address, according to the report. Attorneys then took action.

Intel's legal team stated that the court order was established after finding that Hamidi had trespassed onto Intel property with his mass emails. Attorneys said that employee email addresses are "confidential and proprietary information," according to a letter sent to Hamidi by Linda Shostak of the law firm Morrison & Foerster, which represents Intel.

In the letter, the attorneys classified FACE-Intel's emails as unsolicited bulk email that "drain valuable resources by taxing Intel's internal systems." It went on to say the mailings are "an unsolicited intrusion of the company's proprietary computer equipment."

Barry Steinhardt, president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the injunction could be the first time courts intervened to prevent a private party from using email to communicate with a company's employees.

"It's one thing to block it on their own resources, but it's another to get the court involved," Steinhardt said. "You're involving the government and it's a question if government should be involved in blocking particular speech."

While Intel's legal team defined Hamidi's emails as spam, Hamidi and free speech advocates such as Steinhardt are not so sure.

In his response to Intel's legal team, Hamide stated that "[FACE-Intel was] not sending commercial messages or advertisements.

"Our position is that the rights of the U.S. Constitution should be protected for the benefit of all citizens," he added.

"This is not the typical spam case," said Steinhardt. "This is a prohibition of speech."

Attorneys for Intel emphasized that the case was not a matter of free speech, but rather involved breaking the law by trespassing into a company without authorization.

"Somebody can picket outside the facility and say the business is doing a bad thing, but it doesn't mean they can go inside and picket," said Michael A. Jacobs, partner at Morrison & Foerster. "The free speech issue here is a red herring."

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of News.com.