A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

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.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.