The man who fought Intel

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Jul 13 09:21:19 MDT 2003

NY Times, July 13, 2003

Fighting for the Right to Communicate

IN its simplest terms, this is all about one man, one company and six
e-mail messages. Oh yes, and one lawsuit, which took nearly five years to
wind its way through the California court system.

Yet the Intel Corporation v. Hamidi never has been all that simple.

It originated in a battle against Intel, the giant semiconductor
manufacturer, by Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi, known as Ken, who has spent eight
years trying to rally employees at Intel, his former employer, to resist
what he considers abusive workplace practices. Mr. Hamidi, who was fired by
Intel in 1995 for what it terms cause, sent six e-mail messages after his
departure to thousands of company employees, prompting Intel to sue him for

Over the last few years, the case has assumed importance far beyond one man
and one company. A range of public interest activists, cyberlaw experts and
labor organizers believed that the suit's decision, if it favored Intel,
would restrict free speech and other activities that people now take for
granted on the Internet. Business leaders like the National Association of
Manufacturers sided with Intel, arguing that the company had the right to
block the electronic transmissions since they passed through Intel's
private property.

Two weeks ago, the California Supreme Court overturned two lower court
decisions and sided with Mr. Hamidi rather than Intel, arguing that Intel
could not properly use state trespass laws to block Mr. Hamidi's e-mail
messages since its property had not been damaged by them.

Already, the ruling has come to be viewed as a landmark decision affecting
the future of the Internet. Other states are likely to follow California's
legal precedent, according to lawyers, legal scholars and cyberspace rights
advocates. The decision is not expected to be appealed to the United States
Supreme Court, since "trespass" is a state issue.

The consequences of this victory, meanwhile, are equally great for Mr.
Hamidi, who has struggled against enormous odds, in the face of public
ridicule, financial ruin and a number of stinging legal defeats. With the
California Supreme Court's decision, he has quickly become a symbol of
initiatives for cyberspace rights and fair working conditions.

If life were a 1940's movie, the hero of this man-against-the-system drama
might be played by Gregory Peck. But at the center of this legal maelstrom
is a deceptively ordinary looking 56-year-old man, who lives in Citrus
Heights, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento, and now works as a compliance
officer for the state's Franchise Tax Board.

His background was scarcely ordinary, however. Born in Tehran, Mr. Hamidi
spent 11 years during the 1960's and 70's as an officer and instructor in
Iran's air force, struggling to be released from military service and to
win permission to emigrate to the United States.

"Living under the shah's dictatorship, I used to watch John Wayne movies
and dream about freedom," he recently recalled. "I remember being on the
plane, finally flying to the U.S. with my wife and our 3 1/2-year-old
daughter and telling them, `I will work. I'll be able to vote. I'll be
free. Our children will be free.' "


Hamidi's website:

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