Does Gmail breach wiretap laws?

Three nonprofit groups alleged this week that Google's forthcoming Gmail service violates California wiretapping laws--but lawyers who specialize in privacy law were skeptical of the claim.

In a letter sent to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer on Monday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center argued that Gmail must be shut down because it "represents an unprecedented invasion into the sanctity of private communications." Gmail provides one gigabyte of Web-based mail storage in exchange for context-sensitive advertising that appears on the right side of the screen. "We believe that Gmail violates California's wiretapping laws, subjecting both Google and Gmail users to criminal and civil penalties," said the letter, also signed by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the World Privacy Forum. "Accordingly, we respectfully request that your office investigate the Gmail service."

Stewart Baker, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson who advises technology clients on surveillance-related topics, said EPIC's analysis was flawed. "This is a pretty Luddite notion that if the machine reads my mail, then I've been wiretapped," Baker said. "That would set (Web based) services back quite a ways." The attempt to pull the plug on Gmail, sent just days after Google published its plans for an initial public offering, claims that the free e-mail service violates Sec. 631 of California's criminal code. That section applies to any person or business who "in any unauthorized manner, reads, or attempts to read, or to learn the contents or meaning of any message, report, or communication while the same is in transit."

News source: C|Net News.com

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