Fine print in our email

These stupid things have become one of the most annoying things about email, especially at work:

ELECTRONIC MAIL CONFIDENTIALITY PROVISION
This communication constitutes an electronic communication within the meaning of the Electronic Communication Privacy Act,18 U.S.C. 2510 et. seq., and any unauthorized interception of this communication is strictly prohibited by law. Disclosure of this communication is strictly limited to the recipient intended by the sender of this message. This communication may contain confidential and privileged material for the exclusive use of the intended recipient and receipt by anyone other than the intended recipient does not constitute a loss of the confidential or privileged nature of the communication. Any review or distribution by others is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by return electronic mail.

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The information contained in this communication is confidential, private, proprietary, or otherwise privileged and is intended only for the use of the addressee. Unauthorized use, disclosure, distribution or copying is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you have received this communication in error, please notify the sender immediately at (***)***-**** in Illinois; (***)***-**** in New Mexico; (***)***-**** in Oklahoma; or (***)***-**** in Texas.

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The information contained in the e-mail and any attachments are intended for the named recipient(s) only. It may also be privileged and confidential. If you are not an intended recipient, you must take no action as a result of receiving it, including, but not limited to copying, distributing and amending it. If the communication has been sent to you in error, please contact us immediately and do not show the communication to any other party.

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Please Note: The information transmitted is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addresses and may contain confidential and/or privileged material. Any review, retransmission, dissemination or other use of, or taking of any action other than the intended recipient is prohibited. If you received this in error, please contact the sender and delete the material from any computer.

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This e-mail and any of its attachments may contain ************ proprietary information, which is privileged, confidential, or subject to copyright belonging to the *************. This e-mail is intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient of this e-mail, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution, copying, or action taken in relation to the contents of and attachments to this e-mail is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you have received this e-mail in error, please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete the original and any copy of this e-mail and any printout. Thank You.

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This communication is intended ONLY for the use of the person or entity named above and may contain information that is confidential or legally privileged. If you are not the intended recipient named above or a person responsible for delivering messages or communications to the intended recipient, YOU ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED that any use, distribution, or copying of this communication or any of the information contained in it is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by telephone and then destroy or delete this communication, or return it to us by mail if requested by us. ************* thanks you for your attention and co-operation.

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This e-mail, and any attachments thereto, is intended only for use by the addressee(s) named herein and may contain legally privileged and/or confidential information. If you are not the Intended recipient of this e-mail (or the person responsible for delivering this document to the intended recipient), you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution, printing or copying of this e-mail, and any attachment thereto, is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please respond to the individual sending the message, and permanently delete the original and any copy of any e-mail and printout thereof.

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This message contains confidential information and is intended only for the individual named. If you are not the named addressee you should not disseminate, distribute or copy this e-mail. Please notify the sender immediately by e-mail if you have received this e-mail by mistake and delete this e-mail from your system. E-mail transmission cannot be guaranteed to be secure or error-free as information could be intercepted, corrupted, lost, destroyed, arrive late or incomplete, or contain viruses. The sender therefore does not accept liability for any errors or omissions in the contents of this message, which arise as a result of e-mail transmission. If verification is required please request a hard-copy version.


First of all, I’ve never seen one of these at the top of the message — they’re usually in the form of a footer. By the time you get to reading the footer, if this was truly ground-breaking, confidential, proprietary information, it’s too damn late. You’ve already read it.

Even worse, I don’t even read that far. There’s no freaking law that says you have to scroll all the way down, and I don’t. Once I get to the person’s name, address, phone number, fax number, cell number, Nextel number, and email address (as if that weren’t in the “From” field), I’m done. I stop there. (I do the same thing with voicemail, so if someone remembers something they had forgotten and continues speaking after things start to wind down, I miss it.) So if I want to forward this message, I’m going to do that before I scroll down to see if I might have missed your petty little fine print.

Second reason I hate this things: they are almost NEVER attached to any email with confidential information. In the same vein, they are almost ALWAYS sent with the shared understanding that I need to forward them to other people in my organization. Yet, even when that is the understanding or when that is explicitly stated in the original message, it still comes with this stupid prohibition against doing just that. You can’t just attach this damn thing to every message, even when it doesn’t apply, and expect it to enhance your legal position when called upon. It’s moronic. And there’s no consent here — it’s not a signed non-disclosure agreement — and if you compare what people are trying to do with these emails to how snail mail or other hard-copy non-disclosure agreements work, these email footers seem ludicrous.

Third reason, which isn’t too much different from the previous one: what if I want to respond, but I want to include someone else in the response? That’s one of the best things about email — the ability to CC: others, for advisement purposes or to elicit a response, in an existing conversation. Am I supposed to respond without including the original message and let the newcomers to the thread guess about what was said before. Or should I say, “Jim’s email says I can’t send it to anyone else, but I’d like to CC: you on my response to his email, so I’ll summarize his original email in my own words.” Hell, that’s probably prohibited, too.

Fourth: People include these footers on messages they send to public email lists. ‘Nuff said.

Fifth: Truly confidential information shouldn’t be emailed anyway, at least not in any unencrypted form. It’s simply not secure.

Sixth: It’s pointless. Besides being seemingly legally ineffectual, these
warnings/notices/disclosures are ignored by almost everyone. Most people have some amount of common sense and know if what they are forwarding seems like it should be kept confidential. Whether or not they are right, they will forward or not forward based on that common sense. Obviously a request for confidentiality written from scratch by the email author and included in the email body immediately before or after the information to be kept confidential works for more reasonable people. Remember, anyone with whom you are exchanging sensitive information in a business setting is likely to be someone with whom you have some sort of relationship entailing the exchange of a combination of verbal, email and hard-copy information. Either all of this information acquired as part of the business relationship is confidential (protected by a NDA or by an information understanding between the parties) or it’s not. Email is nothing special in this way.

So, not that this blog has a huge audience or anything, but does anyone know, from a legal standpoint, if these annoying things are actually good for anything? How have they held up in court?

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