In a closely watched case that's testing the boundaries of law governing cyberspace, California's highest court on Monday overturned a lower court's ruling and decided that former Intel employee Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi did not trespass on Intel's IT systems by sending mass e-mail messages critical of the company to its employees.
After leaving Intel, Hamidi helped form FACE (Former and Current Employees) Intel, a group that bitterly objects to and hopes to reform Intel's personnel practices. On behalf of FACE Intel, Hamidi sent to Intel employees six mass e-mail messages containing negative claims about the company, reaching as many as 35,000 people. Intel sued to prevent Hamidi from continuing his e-mail campaign and in November 1998 won an injunction against him. The case eventually reached the California Supreme Court, which delivered Monday's ruling.
Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., grounded its objections in a claim that Hamidi committed "trespass to chattels," an antiquated law revived for use in several cyberspace cases that precludes the use of a plaintiff's personal property to cause injury to the plaintiff. Several companies have used the statute to prevent spammers and Web data collection agents called "bots" from accessing their servers. The companies have argued that those actions impair the affected IT systems and cause economic harm.