Federal appeals court reinstates e-mail wiretap case

[JURIST] The US First Circuit Court of Appeals held [PDF opinion] Thursday that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) [text], which updated the Wiretap Act [text] to include electronic communications, should be broadly interpreted to allow an e-mail provider alleged to have read correspondence in transit to customers to be tried on federal charges. The federal government filed suit [Electronic Privacy Information Center backgrounder] against Bradford Councilman, former Vice President of online bookseller Interloc which is now part of Alibris [corporate website], alleging the defendant provided customers with e-mail addresses and then directed employees to write code that would save and copy inbound communications from Amazon.com to those addresses before they were delivered. A three-judge panel narrowly interpreted the ECPA last year, ruling that the act was not violated [PDF opinion] in the instant case because one cannot "intercept" [statutory definition] e-mails, as prohibited by law, when they are in "electronic storage" [statutory definition]. Thursday's 5-2 opinion vacated the earlier panel decision, holding instead that "'electronic communication' includes transient electronic storage that is intrinsic to the communication process, and hence that interception of an e-mail message in such storage is an offense under the Wiretap Act." CNET News has more.



 

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