From email to Mr. Abate:
I read with interest your article in the SF Chronicle regarding Ken Hamidi and his dispute with Intel. My perception was that you have some more than passing familiarity with the particulars of Hamidi’s case, and lean toward sympathy with him in his dispute with the chip giant. I am not familiar with any of the information about his termination, though I don’t think it relevant to the spam issue.
Your article focused specifically on Intel’s attempts to prevent Hamidi from spamming Intel’s employees, using Intel’s own email system. You have portrayed it as a vaguely moralistic, First-Amendment sort of thing. I think it’s just a spammer doing what spammers do. Whether or not the content of his spam is legitimate, or his firing from Intel was legitimate, or a host of other questions about his motives or situation, are simply not relevant to whether spam is OK. It’s not. Ever.
You see, principles exist outside of specific instances. That is, whether it’s poor Hamidi (little David) against rich Intel (big, bad Goliath), or Hamidi (little David) against Joe Blow (another little David), the principle involved in spamming, as a practice, is the same – theft of service.
The key to the whole issue is right there in your article. I quote:
“Ken Hamidi, who’s lost his home paying legal bills to fight Intel, could never have afforded the $6,000 cost of dropping 30,000 postcards in the mail.”
Right. So he chose a medium whose delivery *Intel* was required to pay for, against their will. That’s the key to spam. Unless what he said was libelous, and thus actionable under normal law, Intel would have no recourse if he was sending postcards, because *he paid for delivery himself*. But just because he can’t afford (or won’t) to send postcards to all of Intel’s employees does NOT constitute a justification for him to use someone else’s property (Intel’s email systems and software) to deliver his message to all their employees.
And that’s the key – while the 1st Amendment guarantees his right to SAY things, it does NOT guarantee his right to “be heard” or “get his message out”. It most certainly does not require a corporation to subsidize his efforts to do so. For good or ill, that’s not what the Constitution offers.
What if it was not a disgruntled ex-employee with a potential case against Intel’s dastardly deeds. What if, instead, it was a racist child molestation fetishist who felt strongly that everyone at Intel should get to hear what he wants to do to a variety of minority children, in graphic detail, with drawings attached? There’s nothing illegal about that (presuming, of course, these were just his fantasies). His First Amendment rights guarantee his right to say it. But should Intel (or anyone else) have to allow him to use their internal messaging infrastructure to efficiently distribute it to all their employees?
For good or ill, Ken Hamidi’s inability to afford to pay to get his own message out never translates to his right to force someone else to pay for it. No matter how rich they are or how poor he is. Theft is theft, whether it’s Robin Hood or Robber Barons doing it.