It is now legal to snoop on peoples email.

Have you ever read the EULA (End User Licence Agreement) that you agreed to when you signed up for a Hotmail Passport? If you haven’t you should as it makes fascinating reading. You would be surprised (and most likely angry) at what rights to your own information you actually have, or more importantly you’ll be surprised at what rights Micro$oft has over your data. (There was a uproar not that long ago, when Microsoft in their licensing agreement for Passport, basically claimed the right to do anything with any data that passed though a Passport server. That means MSN, Hotmail, MSN Messenger and others. They made some adjustments to the EULA, but its still an outrageously tight license from a users perspective.)

Even more fascinating is the new court of appeals ruling that has declared that it is not illegal to read other peoples e-mails, if they happen to be in the ram of your computer at the time. Apparently a gentleman by the name of Bradford C. Councilman decided to spy on his customers by reading their e-mail from free e-mail accounts he had given them, he used this information to gain a leg up on Amazon by finding out what books people wanted.

Its very easy to do this, with one line added to the config of my mailserver, I could have a copy of every e-mail that passes though my server for all uses sent to my e-mail address. The US appeals court might not consider that illegal, but I do, not to mention shameful and immoral.

That appears to be exactly what Mr Councilman did, and since the e-mails were in memory at the time they were copied, and not “in transit” then it can’t be classed as illegal. (In transit, would be if the messages had been intercepted before reaching his server.)

That’s a pretty fine distinction and makes a good case for why a good many laws need to be reviewed to take modern computing and the Internet into account. Laws such as those regarding software patents, not to mention the patent system itself, and federal wiretapping really need to be updated to catch the modern criminal. (Several of our previous stories cover patent abuse that companies are using to extort money from others.)

More about this particular case can be found at Wired



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