Court Rules that ISPs May Read Customers’ Email Without Their Knowledge

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Gentle Readers,

This week a United States Court of Appeals in Massachusetts held that an ISP may read a customer’s email without the customer’s knowledge or permission.

Yes, you read that right.

It is not illegal for an ISP to read its customer’s email, even if they do not have permission to do so, and without the customer’s knowledge.

And Ms. Senator Figueroa thought that Google’s Gmail was a problem!

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Fortunately, Aunty has a passing acquaintance with matters legal, and understands and can explain where from came this bizarre ruling.

You see, the issue before the Court was that the defendant, Bradford Councilman, ran something approximating an ISP for book dealers. It turns out that Mr. Councilman, unbeknownst to his users, was reading their email to figure out what business they were doing with his competitor, Amazon.

Surely, you may be thinking to yourself, this must be against some law!


Well, the United States, in a Federal lawsuit against Mr. Councilman, asserted just that. Most specifically, they asserted that it was a violation of the Federal Wiretap Act.

However, you see, the Wiretap Act specifically prohibits the interception of a message on its way from point A to point B – in midflight, as it were. And in fact, the Wiretap Act never contemplated an Internet, and certainly not one as we know it.

Mr. Councilman, on the other hand, was not intercepting messages, per se. He was simply reading them while they were stored on his mail server, on their way to nowhere, having already arrived.

Of course, this is a distinction which may well be lost on those whose privacy Councilman breached, or which at the very least is unlikely to cause them to forgive and forget.

It is worth noting that what this ruling actually does, from legal standpoint, is determine that, and only that, the act of an ISP reading its users’ email does not violate the Federal Wiretap Act. It is also interesting to note that of the 53 page ruling, a full 37 pages (far more than half) are made up a dissenting opinion.

Still, it gives one pause to think. At least it darned well should.

Kissy kissy,


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14 thoughts on “Court Rules that ISPs May Read Customers’ Email Without Their Knowledge

  1. The job of our court system is to interpret the law, not debate the merits of it. The judges ruling was entirely correct. The problem here is NOT our government or court system. The real problem is, as Aunty pointed out, that existing laws do not address problems created by the information age. The only solution is to update these laws to protect our privacy. E-mail your congressman & senator & ask them to deal with this. It’s their job.

  2. I hope this is some more “psuedo michael moore” spin (ie. BS) because I would hate to think that you are truly so ignorant. Why don’t you get a life.

  3. This dirtbag was from and discgraced my hometown of Turners Falls, MA. He was a selectman (town councillor) for a year and made himself thoroughly hated, acting like he was the smartest person in any room without furnishing the slightest proof.

    The fact that he never spent a single day as towel boy in a prision shower is a travesty!

    I can’t imagine what he’s going to get away with next. He’s probably popping a champagne cork and working on the next version of spyware that will plague us all. I wish a painful, itchy pox on him.

  4. When is it ever going to get through to people that there is NO “Constitutional Right To Privacy”? You have the right to be secure from unreasonable (i.e. unlawful) searches and seizures and that’s all. The government reading your email? Does anyone think that the government (Ridge, Ashcroft, Bush, etc.) has any interest in knowing your Uncle Jim has a hernia? Or that you bought an iPod online? Secrutiny of internet mail and/or transactions is a necessary measure for society’s security. I would rather the government know that I was planning to buy a television set than not to know some evildoer was planning to buy bomb making equipment or explosives, perhaps making plans to crash another airliner into a building. Stop whining about your “personal privacy” online and be thankful that someone, anyone, is trying to protect you.

  5. Excellently and accurately stated. As for the mindless twits who snivel about their privacy being invaded, I doubt that any of their activities are of the slightest interest to anybody. They should just crawl back under their rocks; they’d have privacy there!

  6. Why does it surprise people that someone might be reading their e-mail? It is not a secret that e-mail is like a post card. The mailman can read what you have written. If you want the envelope sealed then use encryption.

  7. The inventor of PGP sold out to the Feds. Granted, it was after being harrased by our “beneolevent” Groverment, but, when they shifted practice from the hammer, to a bribe, he jumped @ it in a heartbeat. And, now, thanks to the Atty General, Tom Ridge, NSA, RSA, and this administration, it is nearly impossible to release encryption software above ground, if the affordmentioned enities have not approved first, i.e. recieved the key codes, or back doors. The irronic thing is, if you, or I were to hack, we would be classified as terrorists, but, companies placing web bugs, beacons, and cookies on our system, without our permission, then that’s OKAY. That’s not hacking. Most broswers can turn off the Cookies, or @ least, premitt you to decide which to allow, but web bugs, that’s not available on all, or even most broswers. And let’s be honest, if you’ve got to invent clever, and cloaked means to collect information about me, and my habits, with out my knowldge, and therefor without my premission electronically, using my computer, my memory, my bandwidth, my harddrive, my bios, & my processor, and again without my premission,(a good definition of hacking), then you are, by definiton, working counter to my wishes. But as long as you can make a buck, it’s okay, but if you try to even the odds abit, or return the favor, you are a terrorist. There is no distinction white, black, or gray hat hacker. That tell you that both the mainstream population, and most of our “lawmakers” & breakers are ignorant of tech, and are happy reduceing all of the USA to their level of comfort, and ignorance. Forget other outside enities, like what happen with China, over a spy plane, or Russia, or a whole myrrid of other state, and none state sponnered enities. We are just playing into their hands just because cooperations, and knee jerk politican can’t get with the program, and become savvy. Does anyone out there remember the letter sent out durning the Clintion administration, to knock it out, or come work for them. That shows the attitude of Big Goverment, and Cooperations. They have desiginated themselves the keeper of knowldge, and anyone posssing esotteric knowldge must be branded an enmy of the state, and a heretic, and must be dealt with accordingly. Will someone please tell me when in history, has ignorance been security? And when has any goverment proven to bode well of its subjects by first cataloging there individual resources, and then moveing to render them impotence? Do you really believe these cooperations mean you know harm? All they are about is making a buck. Where do you believe all of this spam comes from? Most sites collect data from your brsower, and make it available to whoever will pay, even ISP’s, and software mfg’s like MS engage in this practice. So in essence you are paying to get hosed. At lese Suse shows some respect for potential customers.

  8. Well said. Thoses who believe in negotiable freedoms, must by definition believe in negotiable enslavement. Look @ what cooperations are reduceing us to, and having us flip the bill for it.

  9. The sad fact is that many of the people of this country are sheep, and many can’t read past the sixth grade level. It was the office of attorney general in this country that was against fought AGAINST the right of ISPs to read their client’s emails.

  10. I am sure this is not the first person to read email sitting on a server. Whether a bored employee at an ISP or a bored network admin or a high tech corporate spy…no email has EVER been secure. This case has nothing to do with 9/11…in fact the wiretap law is so old the authors of the law could not have predicted the Internet (unless perhaps they read “1984”). Email is not secure. VoIP is not secure. Cell phones are not secure. Life is not secure. Take the steps available (encryption, avoidance, etc). The judge ruled on a technicality – the court system is far from perfect and can be manipulated. If you don’t want it to happen again, contact your legislators and voice your disapproval…then the law will be changed!

  11. Golly, I hope you didn’t really think the Internet was a secure communications medium… Wake up and smell the encryption!
    Yes, it’s a sorry state to have such ability confirmed in a court, but one should not rely on the law to stop behavior; the law influences behavior and punishes misbehavior.
    PGP and the like say you don’t read my mail, not some court.

  12. Where’s the suprise? Bush, Ashcroft, and Tom Ridge have been trying to take away your privacy and freedom ever since 9/11.
    That’s what happens when people act like damn sheep and let their “leaders” call the shots.


  14. Well! I guess if this is the case it will be leagal for the US Postal Service to open and read mail after its is delivered to the mail box. It may be time to change the wiretap law or one might consider setting up their own personal mail server to avoid using snoopy ISP’s. On another note regarding ISP’s I discovered on Monday 6-28 that Comcast checks the amount of outgoing E-mail and if they find there are to many (Tech Support has no Idea and they are really clueless ) the SMTP Server will shut you down for
    48 hours. During this time you can receive mail but you cannot send any. This took weeks to figure out with 5 calls to Tech Support causing a security camera to miss 2 incidents of vandalism. What get me is they do not notify the account via warning E-mail that the account is being haulted for potential Spam for 48 hours.

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