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August 27, 2002

Precedent in Paradise

Hawaiian Airlines pilot Robert Konop, who has an undergraduate degree in television and film production and is a prolific online movie reviewer, this week won a "partial victory" from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case that might set a landmark precedent in how existing federal law is applied to this newfangled technology known as the web.

In reporting on the case last year, Matt Gallaway, legal correspondent for Business 2.0, wrote, "Big Brother lost one."

Konop, who has worked for Hawaiian Airlines for 18 years, runs a password-protected website for pilots. In 1995, during a labor dispute over wages, an airline official - using a pilot's password - got into the site, found rather untowards things said about him, and reported it to the airline's management. As the airline started threatening Konop with legal action, Konop decided to fight fire with fire, and initiated some legal action of his own.

Konop's case hinged on a new interpretation of the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act, applying rules that were written with live conversations in mind to a medium where messages are posted but could be read much later. The trial court rejected his argument, but his appeal - in support of which the EFF filed an Amicus Brief - found merit in his new reading of the Stored Communications Act.

I agreed with the EFF's opinion, and think he still has a good case (on the Wiretap Act) to consider a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme court.

Ultimately, I'm not sure how this may or may not affect, say, the legitimacy of libel claims based on information posted on the web when access is restricted (this case doesn't dispute what was posted, just the right to access the information), or whether new and upcoming legislation aimed specifically at the Internet will render the question moot.

But it's interesting stuff, nonetheless.

Posted by Prophet Zarquon at August 27, 2002 10:24 AM


Posted by Haken on August 27, 2002 6:13 PM:

On another front, I'm an avid reader of FUCKEDCOMPANY.COM, where information about corporate layoffs and the likes is wide open to the general populace to the dismay of many corporations. Recently, FUCKEDCOMPANY.COM was shutdown by FORD through an indirect means by threatening to sue its ISP--not that it's anything new for Phil Kaplan, who owns and operates the site--just to get whatever info FUCKEDCOMPANY.COM had on Ford off the net.

You can read about it here.

Posted by Ryan on September 6, 2002 3:39 PM:

Odd update. The court just reversed itself, apparently bowing to prosecutors who were afraid the ruling would stop them from breaking into private website to pursue wrongdoers.


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