TG Daily Top-10: Tech lawsuits of 2006

10 - Court rules employees cannot delete files without permission

A good portion of today's IT business depends legal proceedings, no matter what side you are standing on. Besides the usual grey zone of sometimes unintended law violations, for which courts typically try to determine compromises to bring justice for the parties involved, there is no lack of reckless behavior in business and unprecedented creativity to find reasons to sue others for profit purposes. This top-10 list ranks what we found to be the most significant cases of the year.

To make it to our top-10 list, the lawsuits had to be filed or settled this year and relate to the U.S. in one way or the other. The lawsuits also needed to have a substantial monetary or business impact for the companies or the industry. We do have a few "winners", however, that were included because of the lawsuit's sheer audacity. A special thanks goes to the lawyers who made these suits possible.

We should let you know about our honorable mentions before we get into the top-10 list. Jack Thompson, the anti-violent video game crusader, wasn't included even though he was in the headlines battling Take 2's "Bully" game. Thompson seems to always be suing some game company, but we were not quite ready to give him a top spot, as we feel that the game industry and public as bigger problems to sort out. It still amazes us that, in this country, blowing off virtual heads is considered acceptable while showing a naked breast is viewed as a danger to teenagers. We are still waiting for a certain amount of common sense to arrive in this discussion.

If you are wondering, we also decided to exclude a widely reported case in which where a teenage girl sued her former friend for allegedly stealing her iPod. While quite entertaining, we just did not see the impact here. On the other hand, you might expect the ongoing cases between SCO vs. IBM or AMD vs. Intel, which, however did not meet our requirement that the proceeding had to be filed or settled this year.

Here we go.

Companies often give their workers take-home laptops, but can those employees "stick it to the man" by freely deleting their files? According to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals the answer is a resounding no. In this lawsuit, the International Airport Centers (IAC) sued former employee Jacob Citrin after he returned a work laptop with all the files securely deleted.

IAC employed Citron to look for promising real estate properties and gave him a laptop to record data, but the company alleged that he used the same laptop to start his own business while still working at IAC. Citrin covered his tracks, not only by deleting the hard drive, but he also used a secure delete program to overwrite the deleted contents. The program worked so well that IAC tech gurus couldn't extract any information from the computer.

The court used the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a law normally used against hackers, to find that Citrin had broken his "duty of loyalty" to the company when he decided to quit the company and as such didn't have permission to delete files. IAC's lawsuit against Citrin is still ongoing and we think he'll probably lose the case. Although as techies, we do applaud him for showing off some brains by using a secure delete program. It's not often we see former employees give computer forensic investigators a run for their money.

What does could this mean for laptop-toting tech workers? In essence, once you decide to leave your employer, your permission to use the laptop and access the files inside, basically goes up in smoke. We also believe companies will start including "Do Not Delete" clauses in future employment contracts.

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Employees cannot delete files without permission, says U.S. court

9 - Man sues chatroom foes

There's a saying that everybody can act tough in a chatroom, but one man just couldn't take the abuse in an AOL chatroom and sued his online enemies for $250,000. George Gillespie claimed he was stalked and verbally abused by Mike Marlowe and Bob Charpentier on AOL's "Romance - Older Men" chatroom. Gillespie is also suing AOL for letting the abuse take place.

Now most would argue that Gillespie should just "take it like a man" and ignore the online taunts, but the feud apparently spilled over into real life, which is what makes this lawsuit so interesting. Gillespie claims the pair went through public records to find his home and then posted a picture on the Internet.

It's hard to take sides on this one. Sure you don't want people photographing your house, but what do you expect from a chatroom named "Romance - Older Men". Perhaps these gentlemen had their Metamucil laced with testosterone. Suing AOL is just plain dumb because it's not AOL's duty to babysit, yes babysit, a bunch of adults in a chatroom.

Unfortunately, we think these chatroom lawsuits will skyrocket in the coming years. Chatrooms are great places to gain information or just to hang around, but sometimes they degenerate into immature, ego-driven, slugfests.

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Man sues chatroom foes