Appeal Court upholds Intel ex-staffer's email injunction

Hamidi not allowed to contact Intel employees at work

The US Third District Court of Appeal in California has ruled that ex-Intel staffer Kourosh 'Ken' Hamidi did indeed commit an act of trespass upon his former employer's computer system when he sent anti-Intel emails to 65,000 company workers.

The Court's decision essentially upholds the judgement of the lower court, made in April 1999, and backed a request made by Intel, which had sought a permanent injunction banning Hamidi from contacting its employees via its own network.

That injunction was upheld by the Appeal Court. Justice Fred Morrison ruled that Hamidi's claim that the injunction hindered his First Amendment right to free speech was unfounded. Hamidi remains "free to send mail - 'e' or otherwise - to the homes of Intel employees and is free to send them regular mail," wrote Morrison. "The injunction simply requires that Hamidi air his views without using Intel's private property."

The judgement marks the latest in a long line of legal cases Hamidi has lost to Intel. In 1998, he sued the chip maker alleging "industrial injury to his psyche" during the time he worked for the company through the way he claimed it treats its staff. A Workers Compensation Board initially sided with Hamidi, but the verdict was overturned the following year after Intel appealed against it.

Since then, Hamidi has operated the Face Intel Web site, which catalogues what he claims is the chip giant's corporate misbehaviour in its treatment of workers and the environment.

Hamidi attempted to bring his claims to the attention of 65,000 Intel workers by email. Since the emails were effectively sent to intel.com mail addresses, they were by definition routed through Intel's mail servers. The company objected, and sued Hamidi to prevent him from mailing staff again.

Intel initially sought damages from Hamidi, but later withdrew those demands from its lawsuit and asked instead for a simple injunction.

Of course, since Hamidi wasn't using Intel's computers to send his spam, he claimed that any attempt to prevent him contacting Intel employees this was a hindrance to his right to free speech. That defence attracted the support of free-speech groups the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society of Harvard Law School, who all backed Hamidi's appeal against the injunction.

In the appeal, the three judges considered Hamidi's right to free speech - and Intel's "rights - of at least equal constitutional force - to wisely govern his lands (or, in this case, his chattels)", Morrison said.

However, the verdict was not unanimous: it was carried by a two-to-one majority. The dissenter, Justice Daniel Kolkey, said that Intel's claimed injury - the loss of employees' work while the read the emails - was insufficient to warrant a claim of trespass.

"If that is injury, then every unsolicited communication that does not further the business's objectives (including telephone calls) interferes with the chattel to which the communication is directed simply because it must be read or heard, distracting the recipient," he said.

Intel probably hasn't heard the last of Hamidi. Last year, he threatened to launch a series of class actions against the chip giant. The actions, for which Hamidi has been garnering employee testaments, allege Intel paid insufficient overtime to certain staff and exposed fab workers to hazardous materials. ®

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