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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 30, 2001

Clarification expected for Web privacy rules

Associated Press

A federal appeals court panel said Tuesday it has withdrawn an opinion that supported the claims of a Hawaiian Airlines pilot who accused company officials of illegally entering his secured Internet site.

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that a California court erred when it did not order a trial on Robert Konop's claims that airline officials violated the Wiretap Act and other federal laws in 1995 by reading the Web site.

The ruling was characterized as a victory for operators of private Web sites who want to guard against trespassers.

Konop, 49, who lives in Playa del Rey, Calif., and has represented himself in the lawsuit, said the appellate panel's decision to withdraw the opinion is not a defeat. He said he expects the San Francisco-based panel to merely rewrite the ruling to clarify points that could have wide-ranging implications for Internet communications.

Attorneys for Hawaiian Airlines had asked for a rehearing of the case before the full appeals court. But Tuesday, Judges Robert Boochever, Stephen Reinhardt and Richard Paez said that request was moot because the panel had withdrawn the opinion and would be filing a new opinion.

Reinhardt dissented from the withdrawal of the opinion, without explanation.

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said: "We hope it's good news for the company, but we won't know until the new opinion is issued."

In 1995, Konop's Web site criticized proposed wage concessions that were supported at the time by the Air Line Pilots Association. The site urged pilots to consider getting new union representatives.

The Web site was intended only for certain pilots who were required to log in with a user name and password.

The lawsuit said an airline official gained access to the site by asking permission from an eligible participant to enter that pilot's user name and password. The airline official then alerted the union to the contents of the Web site, according to the suit.

Konop accused officials of violating the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act by reading the private information under false pretenses. The lawsuit also claimed that in telling the union about the Web site, the Honolulu-based airline violated the Railway Labor Act, which bars carriers from interfering with employees' selection of union representation.

The January decision noted that the Wiretap Act allows any person to read Web sites that are intended for and readily accessible to the general public, but said Konop's site did not fit those criteria.

Konop, a DC-10 captain, has worked for Hawaiian Airlines for 17 years.