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Re: E-Mail Disclaimers

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James

I agree with a lot of your points. But you might be preaching to the choir.

Unfortunately, this response is longer than I'd like in that you bought up a lot of issues, so please bear with me, folks.

> However, I also disagree with Drew Norman and R. Pixley that these
> disclaimers are related to attorney-client privileged communications.
> That is a whole different issue, separate and distinct from ordinary
> business confidentiality where no legal "privilege" exists.

Yes and no. Lawyers want them so they can keep them out of evidence.  Politicians want them so they can't be criticized by their opponents for some incomprehensible reason come the next election cycle.  Professional sports teams use them so that the outcome of their work product has some drama value. (Otherwise, nobody would watch.)  These are reasonable uses for the disclaimers.  The problem is. most businesses use them because they were advised by someone to use them.  And that advise cost them a lot of money, so they had better pay attention to it. 

>Basically,
> in ordinary business communications, if one wants something to remain
> confidential, then the burden is entirely on the business participant to
> maintain the confidentiality.

Absolutely.  That's why you mail business confidential stuff by certified mail - return receipt.  If necessary, you have it hand carried by yourself or one of your trusted employees.  You never trust first class mail or private companies such as Federal Express, Emory, Airborne or UPS.  Maybe Wells Fargo, if they use an armored car and armed guards to deliver it.  Maybe not.  That might be secure enough for money, but not for information.

> Bill Gates learned this the hard way when
> the DOJ subpoenaed his "confidential" incriminating e-mail, and most of
> it was internal e-mail, not even Internet e-mail.

Good counsel is always hard to find, even for Mr. Gates.  Besides, I understand he's not an easy client to have.

> Even the National Security Act can't assure that
> information remains private -- remember the Pentagon Papers?

One of the few that did and should have been leaked sooner. And on the basis of what's in the NSA, what was in them didn't legally qualify as national security information anyway.  It being classified is a typical example of the abuse of power that the federal government did at that time in the name of national security.

> The idea of a disclaimer assuring confidentiality in ordinary business
> communications is even more of a myth ....

It was always a myth, even before computers.  I'm sure when the telephone was invented, the same problem occurred.  Same thing with the printing press and tom-tom drums.  I'm sure then secure smoke signals of Egyptian times weren't really secure.
 
> I strongly suspect that the first of these insidious e-mail disclaimers
> was originally created by some silly in-house corporate counsel (most
> good counsel are practicing real law), to placate the concerns of his
> computer illiterate CEO who feared how to protect "our confidential
> business information" from this scary, new, wide-open thing called the
> Internet.  Of course it didn't, and doesn't.
> Unfortunately, the Internet is now so prolific that it necessarily includes a lot of moronic sheep.

More like bad sterotyping by the computer illiterates.  There are still a lot of people who believe the only purpose for the internet is to view p*rn*, play g*m*s, fl*rt with others, or otherwise goof off.  (The astericks are so those folks who have to deal with corporate filters like websense can get this posting.)  But they do know how to vote and get on juries.

> Luckily, and somewhat surprisingly, our company hasn't
> added these automated disclaimers yet, although I did notice about nine
> months ago that one of our VP's has added such a disclaimer to his
> automated e-mail signature.  Coincidentally, he is quite possibly the
> most computer illiterate person in the division.

Let me guess: he activates his autoresponder when he's not in the office.  He doesn't do his own typing.  He has his email printed out so he can read them.  He's a big believer in the chain-of-command.  He doesn't believe in peer to peer communication.(What peers talk about uses strange buzzwords and is too complicated for them; therefore they can't control it; therefore it must be a bad thing.) Dilbert is banned from the office.  He has his very own secretary.

Let's not call them names.  They need a lot of help to get their job done.  That's employment for us!

> Let's get rid of these useless disclaimers (wishful thinking).  They do
> nothing but interfere with the readability of messages, eat up
> bandwidth, and clog the pipes.  Oh, yeah -- they make the sheep feel
> like they've done something.

Useless disclaimers - Definitely.
Readability - no problem, the delete key (in my mind)works fine, and if reading the post despite the warning gets me out of future jury duty, even better.
Bandwidth - Not really a problem.  But I'd be more concerned about the extra info wasting sand, trees, brain cells and stockholder profits.
Clog the pipes - same comments as readability.
Looks like they have something to hide - definitely.

There is a bright side: mindless boilerplate disclamers in e-mails that I receive makes me feel I'm smarter and more knowledgeable than those who use them.  There is a certain advantage in knowing that.  Certain arrogance too, unfortunately.  Unless, of course, they are carrying a big stick, in which case I cry "uncle" and learn to grovel fast.

Enough already, I have to get to work in the morning.  Where's my kneepads? (I may as well be comfortable.)

Ray Pixley

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