Tech company Awareness Technologies has been brought to US court on the charge that its software was used illegally to oust the messages of a man who did not condone being spied on. The story is as followed:
Catherine Zang met Javier Luis online in 2009. What resulted was an online friendship that spanned several years.
Zang’s husband, having caught onto the friendship, installed WebWatcher spyware in an attempt to monitor Zang and Luis’s private emails and online chats. Zang was able to spy on their conversations for several months, collecting the conversations as evidence for divorce proceedings to commence later on.
Luis, upon realizing that his conversations were being monitored without his consent, took legal action against the software firm that created WebWatcher, Awareness Technologies. A US appeal court recently ruled 2-1 that Luis has the right to sue Awareness Technologies.
According to Luis, WebWatcher logged Catherine Zang’s web history, searches, chat logs and email threads, making it possible for the company to illegally intercept his conversations with Zang.
Luis originally meant to move forward with legal action against Zang’s husband and other unnamed parties, but that action has since been settled. A district court originally dismissed Luis’s claims against Awareness Technologies, but Luis continued his action and managed to win in appeals court.
As for the actual relationship that was snooped upon, Javier Luis apparently developed “a caring relationship” with Catherine Zang. Zang’s husband was suspicious that she was talking with another man and installed the WebWatcher software on their shared computer so that he could intercept their messages in real time. Eventually he used the messages that he found to make the conditions of their divorce in 2010 more favorable to him.
WebWatcher claims to be a software designed for parents who want to monitor their children’s internet use or employers who want to make sure their employees aren’t slacking off. The description for the product on the company’s website is as follows:
“View recorded PC activity remotely from your secure online account. Only WebWatcher sends data to a web-based account allowing you to monitor your children or employees from any internet connected computer, which in turn, allows you to prevent a problem before it’s too late. To ensure proper use, we require that the user has both physical and password access.”
When Luis brought Awareness Technologies to court for creating a product that spied on him without his consent, the company denied that it intercepted his communications (an act illegal under the US Wiretap Act) and said that it only stored the communications as data. AT went on to claim that the term “intercept” was only appropriately used in situations where a device captures a communication “either before [it] reaches the intended recipient or contemporaneously with the transmission not after it reaches the destination where it is placed in electronic storage.”
The court of appeals disagreed, finding that Luis had “indeed alleged enough facts to reasonably infer that Awareness intercepted his communications.”