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Lawmaker slams bulk e-mail ruling

A key California congressman wants to overturn a recent court decision that granted an ex-Intel employee the right to send thousands of unwanted e-mails to his former co-workers.

A key California congressman plans to introduce legislation to overturn a recent court decision that granted an ex-Intel employee the right to send thousands of unwanted e-mails to his former co-workers.

Rep. Chris Cox, a Republican from Orange County, said Wednesday that the California Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling last week was ill-advised and posed a threat to businesses' ability to use the law to block bulk e-mailers from clogging their servers.

It is a "most peculiar ruling that needs legislative correction," Cox said during a hearing devoted to drafting antispam legislation convened by two House Energy and Commerce Committee panels.

In the 78-page opinion dated June 30, the California court said by a narrow majority that the venerable common-law offense of trespass could not be extended to cover an "electronic communication that neither damages the recipient computer system nor impairs its functioning." The ruling is expected to be influential in other states but only applies to California residents and companies.

The case landed in court after former Intel employee Ken Hamidi fired off hundreds of thousands of messages to current employees of the chipmaker accusing Intel of unfair labor practices. Intel at first attempted to block the messages through technological means and eventually filed suit, alleging that Hamidi's persistent bulk e-mail campaign amounted to the electronic equivalent of an unlawful trespass.

The California Supreme Court reversed a lower court's ruling and sided with Hamidi, differentiating what he did from the actions of traditional spammers by noting that his messages were noncommercial and were not as high in volume as commercial spam. The dissent, on the other hand, said that "the law should allow Intel to protect its computer-related property from the unauthorized, harmful, free use by intruders."

"I will soon introduce legislation to correct this injustice," Cox said Wednesday. "Trespassing is trespassing, whether it's on land or on a computer server."

An Intel representative said last week that the company is considering whether to appeal the ruling.