Fired Intel worker can send e-mails criticizing former employer, California high court rules

Tuesday, July 1st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ In a free-speech case watched closely by civil libertarians, California's high court ruled that a barrage of e-mails sent by a fired Intel worker disparaging his former employer did not constitute trespassing.

In a 4-3 decision Monday, the California Supreme Court overturned a lower-court injunction barring Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi from sending e-mail to his former colleagues. Santa Clara-based Intel had sought the injunction, arguing that Hamidi was trespassing on its computer servers just as though he were intruding on private property.

``He no more invaded Intel's property than does a protester holding a sign or shouting through a bullhorn outside corporate headquarters, posting a letter through the mail, or telephoning to complain of a corporate practice,'' Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote for the in majority.

The majority's reasoning does not give a legal nod to those sending spam, or unsolicited e-mail, en masse, she noted.

Werdegar also said Intel's servers were not harmed by the computer messages and the thousands of recipients were able to request that the e-mails stop, which Hamidi honored. Had that not been the case, Hamidi may have been trespassing, she said.

She added that Intel's chief concern was the content of his e-mails, which are protected speech. Commercial speech, like spam, does not have the same First Amendment protection.

Writing for the minority, Justice Richard Mosk said: ``Intel should not be helpless in the face of repeated and threatened abuse and contamination of its private computer system.''

Hamidi, 56, was fired from his engineering job in 1995 after a work-injury dispute and began sending e-mails complaining of unfair work practices to as many as 30,000 Intel employees at a time.

Hamidi vowed Monday to resume his e-mails. ``I'm going to do it to the max,'' he said.

Intel was disappointed and assessing its ``options in the event Mr. Hamidi resumes his spamming activity against Intel,'' spokesman Chuck Mulloy said.