Court Overturns Ruling Saying Reading Someone's Email Isn't A Wiretap

from the semantics... dept

Last year, there was a big uproar over the fact that a court found that a bookseller who offered his customers free email accounts did not violate wiretapping laws by reading their emails in order to see what Amazon was offering as deals. The ruling hinged on the wording of wiretap laws. The judges in the case admitted they weren’t comfortable with the decision, but the problem was in the way the law was worded. The law only applies to “intercepted” communications — and since the messages were (temporarily) on a server, reading through them technically was not “intercepting” communications, since they already had them. It appears that a new ruling now reverses that ruling and says that it is wiretapping, and the original case can go on. While the end result may seem like a good thing, protecting the rights of individuals to keep their email private from their email providers, the decision is still questionable. The real problem here is the wiretap law that is not designed to handle this situation at all. The article above notes that the law hopefully will still be changed — which would solve this issue. However, in the meantime, it does sound like the judges may have decided something not based on what the law actually says.

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Comments on “Court Overturns Ruling Saying Reading Someone's Email Isn't A Wiretap”

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Bob says:


Thankfully this was overturned, it is good to see an appeals court being sensible in its decisions.

The panel’s ruling last year was reckless in it’s reasoning, in that “the messages were in storage rather than transit”, therefore were exempt from the Wiretap Act. They completely ignored the intent of the law, which is to protect against unlawful wiretapping, instead focusing on wording technicalities in the law.

Essentially that panel gave a green light to interception via procmail. If that be the case, then according to that panel’s reasoning, you’d be o.k. recording a conversation on a telephone then storing it to a sound file, which we all know to be quite ridiculous.

It leaves you wondering just how these panel judges get appointed in the first place.

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