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Net Law Roundup #7

by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer

We all forget to pay bills sometimes. If you leave your phone bill for too long, people trying to call you will soon be informed of your tardiness by a message that your line has been disconnected! The same does not always happen when an Internet account is disconnected. Some ISPs initially suspend their customers' accounts when payments are overdue, and only finally delete those accounts some time afterwards. In the meantime, the accounts can continue to receive mail while they are suspended.

When this happens, it can cause problems for both ISPs and their customers. From the customer's perspective, they do not want people who send them email to think that the email has been received, when in fact it has not and might never be. From the ISP's perspective, they do not want to have to incur the cost of continuing to receive email for a customer without having any certainty that they will be paid for it. Even less does the ISP want to allow a customer to dial up to collect their email if the account is not being renewed.

The legal position is that the ISP is under no obligation, unless its agreement with the customer says otherwise, to continue to receive email for a customer whose account is overdue. In fact, it is better for an ISP not to allow mail to be received in an expired customer's account, because otherwise the ISP could arguably incur liability as a "gratuitous bailee" (think of the liability that a lost-property clerk might incur for slashing your luggage), and will soon also be liable to safeguard your personal information under the Privacy Act.

It is best for Internet users, too, if their mail bounces when their account is expired. That way, there is at least a chance that if the email is important, the person who sent it to you will give you a phone call or write you a letter instead, rather than assuming you received the email.

Please Note: The information contained in this article is general in nature and cannot be regarded as anything more than general comment. Readers of this article should not act on the basis of this comment without consulting one of iLaw’s legal practitioners who will consider their particular circumstances