Tue, Jan. 18, 2005

Sanctity of EMail

ACP - Washington.   The Karlsruhe Court of Appeals, Oberlandesgericht Karlsruhe, decided a controversy between a university in Baden-Wuerttemberg and a former science employee that the purposeful filtering of EMails could be punishable under German criminal law. After the employee and the university separated in 1998 in discord, the former employee maintained close contact with former science colleagues and friends by sending EMails to accounts on the university's mail server .

By judgment published last Monday, the higher regional court affirmed in a country-wide first appellate decision on this topic that the former employee could succeed in filing criminal charges against the persons in charge at the university, docket number 1 WG 152/04, decision of January 10, 2005.

In 2003, the university had arranged for EMail traffic from and to former employees to become subject to technical filtering--without notification of either the sender or the recipient. According to the ruling, someone who suppresses electronic letters as a responsible person for an enterprise or a university server renders himself punishable under German criminal law. Filtering of EMail traffic is a violation of the secrecy of mail and letters. The opposite conclusion could solely be reached, according to the appellate court, with special justification, for example to defend against a virus attack. The court did not publish the place of the university in order to avoid impairing the preliminary investigation.


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