Businessman can be tried under wiretap statute
By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff
A federal appeals court in Boston said yesterday that a businessman charged with intercepting and reading his customers' e-mails can be tried under a federal wiretapping statute. The ruling is the latest twist in a four-year-old case that has been closely watched by Internet civil liberties groups around the country.
Bradford Councilman is former vice president of Interloc Inc., a rare book dealer in Greenfield that offered a free e-mail service to customers. In 1998, Councilman allegedly began intercepting any e-mails sent to his customers by the Internet retailer Amazon.com. Councilman and his colleagues allegedly read the messages to see what Amazon was offering his customers, so that he could make attractive counter-offers.
A grand jury indicted Councilman in 2001 for violating the federal wiretapping law. Councilman urged dismissal of the indictment, saying that the wiretap law did not apply because the e-mail was intercepted while it was stored in the memory of a computer, not when it was traveling across a network.
A federal district court agreed and threw out the indictment. The US Justice Department, which had brought the case against Councilman, appealed the ruling. But a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals in Boston also rejected the charges. Last year, the Justice Department persuaded all seven appeals court judges to hear the case.