US vs. Councilman is back on track. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an ISP reading its customers' mail can be tried on federal criminal charges. (More from Yahoo/AP, and Declan McCullough of News.com).
Here's how it happened:
In 1998, Interloc (the first major Internet-based listings service) was caught snooping on emails sent by Amazon.com to booksellers using Interloc's ISP business, which provided @interloc.com bookseller email addresses. Alibris, the company that acquired Interloc, quickly pled guilty, and divested itself of the ISP business.
The case continued in 2001 as US vs. Councilman, in which the government tried to prove that a former Interloc VP violated criminal wiretapping laws by having directed the email interceptions. Councilman's lawyers argued that existing federal criminal wiretapping laws did not directly apply, because the filtering did not occur during transmission, but rather, took place while the Amazon.com emails were on the Interloc email server. The District Court judge agreed, and the case was dismissed in 2003.
A three-judge panel of the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal in June 2004, ruling 2-1 in June 2004 that the Wiretap Act did not apply. Online privacy advocates were concerned that the ruling weakened Internet users' privacy rights. The Court voted to rehear the case in October 2004, presumably in reaction to widespread concerns about the ruling.
Yesterday, the Court ruled 5-2 that the Wiretap Act can apply even to email messages temporarily stored during delivery on an email server, allowing the government to move ahead with its original charge, and effectively leaving us back where we were in 2001.
Update: I fixed my mistake and clarified the description, as per Seth's suggestion. Thanks!Posted by Anirvan