Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
email, surveillance, wiretapping

mpaa, torrentspy

A Lot More At Stake In TorrentSpy vs. MPAA Email Snooping Lawsuit

from the wiretapping-laws dept

For a few years now, we've been covering the battle between TorrentSpy and the MPAA. While TorrentSpy has given in and shut down on the question concerning the operations of its business, there was a separate legal question that is still being fought in court. As we noted recently, TorrentSpy has appealed the judge's ruling that the MPAA didn't break any laws in gaining access to its executives' emails. As you may recall, the MPAA hired a guy who hacked into TorrentSpy's servers to send copies of all the emails to himself first, which he then sold to the MPAA (he later regretted this decision and confessed to TorrentSpy, which is what resulted in the lawsuit in the first place). When the issue first came up in court, the MPAA played dumb, and pretended that it assumed the guy had legal access to the emails.

While this may seem like just a straight privacy case, the EFF, along with the ACLU and others, have filed a brief noting that there's much more at stake here. Specifically, the EFF is concerned that the court ruled that since the email messages were not technically "intercepted" under the wiretap act, due to the fact that the emails were stored, however briefly, on a mail server before they were copied and re-forwarded. In other words, as the EFF points out, if you have access to any server that handles a message as it travels across the internet, it's not "intercepted" for you to read that message. That has huge and very dangerous implications for any sort of internet wiretapping -- suggesting that as long as the government routed all communications through its own machines, it could read everything without a warrant. This case is about a lot more than a BitTorrent tracker battling the MPAA.

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  • identicon
    psycros, 5 Aug 2008 @ 10:00pm

    Forget the larger Big Brother issues for a moment - if the guy actually HACKED into the server, and was paid to do so, then we're talking massive miscarriage of justice. If he wasn't a Torrentspy admin or anything then his access was by definition gained illegally. Case closed, MPAA loses. Any lawyer that has trouble proving that case should find a new line of work. I hope the MPAA is taken to the mat (and the cleaners) over this. God help us if our courts or the rest of the government starts deciding that some private organizations are allowed to steal information without penalty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ed, 6 Aug 2008 @ 12:28am

    As for the intercept question, I was taught to treat email like a postcard. You send it in cleartext through an open network using other people's machines and there are no specific protections for email AFAIK.

    It is like shouting to someone in a crowded park. Or maybe like playing that "pass the message along" game with complete strangers.

    If you have something sensitive, use encryption. If you are tinfoil hat paranoid, buy tempest proof equipment.

    Or just send boring email...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mike F.M, 6 Aug 2008 @ 3:09am

    Could it really go that far?

    Based on this alone, I very much doubt that it could be extended to government routing everything through physical servers they have access to so that they could read anything and everything without warrents.

    There would be so much uproar at the first mention of this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Enrico Suarve, 6 Aug 2008 @ 3:27am

      Re: Could it really go that far?

      Is that the same uproar as caused by warrentless wiretapping and subsequent retrospective immunity, or would it be the same uproar generated by the revelation that US customs can take your electronic items and data without any justification and decide to hold onto them for years without needing to give a reason?

      Will it be as effective?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Truthbringer, 6 Aug 2008 @ 4:42am

    Privacy . . . you must be kidding?

    Look George Bush and Karl Rove got the American people to willing give up pretty much any civil liberty or constiutional protection they wanted (along with state sovereignty and the balance of power among branches), simply by playing with some colors on an alert system and using some frankly insulting slogans. If those two idiots could so easily dupe the public, then the American people are simply too stupid to have any privacy in todays world. Im afraid that fight is over my friends.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    d0n0vAn, 6 Aug 2008 @ 8:23am


    If you think that the government doesn't read and/or listen to every electronic communication it can grab then you are a fool. The reality is that the government takes whatever steps necessary to perpetuate it's existence and your civil liberties be damned. I agree that the fight is over and we lost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Derek, 6 Aug 2008 @ 10:20am

    Email private? Not in its current state...

    What Ed says (comment #2, above) is absolutely correct: basic email is about as secure as a postcard. It might actually be a bit of an understatement. Basic email bounces across various unsecured and unverified mailservers, almost like an online pinball machine. Legal or not, "intercepting" messages at these mailservers is a negligible task.

    When using basic email, it might not be reasonable to expect any privacy, but would things have been different if the TorrentSpy executives were using security software? Would their clear intention to keep the missives private come into the judge's assessment of whether this is a case of "interception" or not?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Mischa, 6 Aug 2008 @ 12:21pm

      Re: Email private? Not in its current state...

      It is true that postcards are not very private, but that doesn't mean the Feds/police/etc can easily read them without "intercepting" them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan, 6 Aug 2008 @ 6:14pm

    Does that mean that we could some media moguls in GITMO?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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