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An Analysis Of Email Disclaimers 334

Posted by timothy
from the by-reading-this-you-agree-to-send-your-sister dept.
akintayo writes "Recently more amd more organisations have required email sent from their accounts to contain an attached disclaimer. This disclaimer is supposed to describe the recipient's rights to 'use' that email. This slate article analyzes the legality and impact of one such disclaimer, and finds it somewhat lacking."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

An Analysis Of Email Disclaimers

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  • by garcia (6573) * on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:27AM (#9315156)
    I consider a 100+ word message at the bottom of an email spam. Most emails are a sentence or two. What the hell do I need another 100+ words tacked on the end for? Shouldn't we have some sort of mandate similar to Usenet signatures? That said...

    It may be legally privileged and/or confidential and is intended only for the use of the addressee(s).

    If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any unauthorized disclosure, dissemination, distribution, copying or the taking of any action in reliance on the information herein is strictly prohibited.

    If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify the sender and delete this message.

    Now, while the lawyer notes that they are only asking you to do these things I see another flaw... If the document wasn't intended for the use by the addressee the rest of the notice is moot. It's up to the sender to guarantee that the message is delivered to the correct John.Doe@yahoo.com. I don't see how I would have to follow any of that if a) I didn't sign it and b) I am not the person they intended anyway.

    No addressee should forward, print, copy, or otherwise reproduce this message in any manner that would allow it to be viewed by any individual not originally listed as a recipient.

    If I am sent it incorrectly I am not allowed to look at it anyway. It doesn't make sense.

    Then again IANAL :)
    • There's finely a use for the "Burn before reading" Top Secret classification !
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I guess its just like illegal to open someone else's 1040 delivered to your mailbox - though USPS made a mistake - you have a moral, legal(?) obligation to put it back in the send to box.
      • It's also a federal law that protects the US mail from being tampered with. There is no federal law that governs email.

        The stupid disclaimer at the bottom will certainly not work if the person messes up and sends it to another country... Just because my email address is .com/.net/.org doesn't necessarily mean that I (or my mail server) has to be under the same law as the originator's.
      • addressing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SuperBanana (662181) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:07AM (#9315604)
        I guess its just like illegal to open someone else's 1040 delivered to your mailbox - though USPS made a mistake - you have a moral, legal(?) obligation to put it back in the send to box.

        That's if it wasn't addressed to you, and you open it. If it has your name and address on it, you're perfectly correct to open it; it is legally -your- mail. Email MUST be addressed to you to get to you, unless something gets REALLY screwed up, and you're not going to notice until you open the email, because unlike postal mail, you don't usually see the To: address until you open it.

        Furthermore, email isn't like a physical letter; it doesn't remain sealed, you can't tell if it has been read, etc. People with the same street number and similar sounding roads get their mail delivered to me all the time; I toss it back in my mailbox. They probably can't even tell it was misdelivered, unless they were expecting it on a specific date.

        Everyone has known for years the disclaimers are unenforceable; you can't enforce something you haven't agreed to or signed, period. What's to stop me from putting "You will give me $500 if you read this email" at the bottom of every email? We're talking basic contractual law here, folks.

      • by Wylfing (144940) <(brian) (at) (wylfing.net)> on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:09AM (#9315614) Homepage Journal
        I guess its just like illegal to open someone else's 1040 delivered to your mailbox - though USPS made a mistake - you have a moral, legal(?) obligation to put it back in the send to box.

        Quite wrong, actually. The United States Postal Service has special laws protecting its operations. One of them is that it is a felony to interfere with the delivery of mail once it has entered the postal system, which is in effect until a letter or parcel arrives at its intended recipient or is returned to the sender. This is, however, not the case with email. A communication by email has roughly the same legal protection as shouting across a room.

        As the author of TFA points out, a business that actually wants to protect its communications ought to use encryption and digital signatures.

    • by mccalli (323026) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:38AM (#9315277) Homepage
      Shouldn't we have some sort of mandate similar to Usenet signatures? That said...

      Far back in the mists of time, or about 1994 as the more prosaic prefer to call it, I was part of my then employer's Internet Special Interest Group. Amongst other things, we decided the final version of the disclaimer which would be attached to our emails.

      We had a rule that anything more than four lines was absolutely unnacceptable. It annoyed the recipients, was too long for most people to read and had only questionable enforcement value anyway. It was a fairly common rule of thumb at the time, but as you say it appears to have been abandoned.

      I work at one of the banks in London, and a friend of mine works at a different bank nearby. An email from me sent via my personal account starts 'Fancy lunch?'. The mail from him usually says "Yep - 12ish?" followed by about fifteen lines of utter, unenforcable gibberish. No-one reads it, and if they did there'd be no legal basis for it anyway.

      Cheers,
      Ian

      • by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:41AM (#9315311) Homepage
        You bankers, and your "fancy lunches". Will you be having it on my money, then?
      • by haystor (102186) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:43AM (#9315345)
        I like the ones that tell you to delete all copies of the message. Is that implicit permission to access their mail servers for deletion?
        • by Anonymous Coward
          What happens when this conflicts with various mail retention policies and laws?

          [FX type, deep male voice] "Next on Fox, When Lawyers Collide!"
      • by NanoGator (522640) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:59AM (#9315531) Homepage Journal
        "We had a rule that anything more than four lines was absolutely unnacceptable. It annoyed the recipients, was too long for most people to read and had only questionable enforcement value anyway. It was a fairly common rule of thumb at the time, but as you say it appears to have been abandoned. "

        Heh. Not totally related to what you've said, but it reminded me of it. At my previous job, somebody sent an email to my office mate. It was meant for me. He tapped my shoulder and said "Well I think this email was supposed to be for you, but the disclaimer says I cannot show it to anybody that it's not intended for." So I read his disclaimer, and he was right. By forwarding it to me, he'd violate those terms. Heh we had a chuckle at that.

        So how'd it end? Not very excitingly, really. We just used a little common sense, assumed he wouldn't care, and forwarded the message to me anyway.
    • by Nobody You Know (750014) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:41AM (#9315302)
      Actually, if you aren't the intended recipient, the notice itself prohibits you from doing what it requests.

      If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that...the taking of any action in reliance on the information herein is strictly prohibited.

      It then tells you:

      If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify the sender and delete this message.

      Wouldn't notifying the sender be taking an action based on the information contained therein, and thus be expressly prohibited?

      • by tsg (262138) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:53AM (#9316199)
        >If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify the sender and delete this message.

        Wouldn't notifying the sender be taking an action based on the information contained therein, and thus be expressly prohibited?


        I get a laugh out of them making it my responsiblity to make sure the sender didn't type the wrong address. If I'm not the intended recipient, then how did I get it? If the To: header isn't necessarily the intended recipient, then how am I supposed to know who is and that it isn't me? If it's so important, why aren't you being more careful who you send it to?
    • At the company that I work for (A company that is Hyper-Specific about their legal/patent/information sharing policies) this is remedied in a somewhat simplistic manner, though the goal and outcome is still the same. Basically, in a normal email there are settings ala low, medium or high importance but there is also a very specific (read: the Legal Button) check box of "Company Confidential" which is to be used in all the same legal respects as the original posters legal .sig type file.
    • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:47AM (#9315395)
      If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient,

      Its another example of nonsense int he real world.. of course I *am* the intended recipient of every email I get, otherwise the sender would have sent it to someone else. Of course, you could say that you accidentally sent it to me instead of who you meant to send it to.. but how am I supposed to know that? I don't read minds.

      I can guess, but that's hardly going to stand up in court, now is it?

      Once I worked at a company that had email addresses that were firstname+last initial. Mine was AndrewB. One of the directors was AndyB.

      Yes, you guessd right - I received an email once saying "Andy, do you want this quarters bonus of (several thousand pounds) paid as salary or into your pension?". I was overjoyed.. several thousand pounds in addition to my salary, yes please. I only wondered why they hadn't announced this wonderful new bonus scheme to us in some corporate communication......

      I never got the cash, but it was addressed to me, had my name at the top, everything.
      • by shayne321 (106803) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:34AM (#9315905) Homepage Journal

        Its another example of nonsense int he real world.. of course I *am* the intended recipient of every email I get, otherwise the sender would have sent it to someone else. Of course, you could say that you accidentally sent it to me instead of who you meant to send it to.. but how am I supposed to know that? I don't read minds.

        I can guess, but that's hardly going to stand up in court, now is it?

        Well, here's what I normally see.. Some moron at a bank or law office or whatever forwards a lame joke to like 20 of their buddies, with full legal disclaimer attached. The 20 recipients then go on to forward it to 1000 aol accounts and everyone else in their address books, and somewhere down the line a "friend" that I haven't talked to in 4 years but has me in his address book forwards it along to me and everyone else in his address book. I now have a lame joke about 6 generations removed from the original sender but the full disclaimer about how I'm not supposed to read the email still attached. Funny thing is, the disclaimer is at the BOTTOM of the email.. Tell me how I am supposed to UNREAD the lame joke after I see the disclaimer...

    • I consider a 100+ word message at the bottom of an email spam. Most emails are a sentence or two. What the hell do I need another 100+ words tacked on the end for?

      Even more annoying is one I've seen that's html based. It has a pretty little gif border, pointers, and big company logo attached. So when my friend send me an email saying, `are you coming to the party on Saturday?' the whole email is 10k in size.
    • by Gr8Apes (679165) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:53AM (#9315477)

      Email is basically a post card. If you get a post card in the mail, you can legally read it, if it's even legible, as you're not tampering with it.

      If, however, you receive something incorrectly addressed in an envelope, you may not legally open it (in the US anyways). This would be akin to an encrypted (the envelope) email. The mis-addressed recipient would not be able to read it easily, or even practically. The envelope (encryption) is a much stronger enforcement of the "authorized person only may open this mail".

      • Unless of course that letter was addressed to *you*. You are then allowed to open it. If you subsequently discover that the sender stuffed the wrong letter into your envelope, you are under no obligation to turn yourself in to the police.
      • f, however, you receive something incorrectly addressed in an envelope, you may not legally open it

        What if the street address is correct, but the name is not? Can one legally open it?

        Also, is it legal to discard mail that is addressed to people not resident at that address (for example: former residents at that address) without reading it?

        • I believe it is illegal for anyone to open mail not addressed to them. There are power of attorney type exceptions, in cases of invalids or those that are dead. Technically, I believe even your spouse cannot open mail [findlaw.com] addressed to you and vice-versa, if for some reason that is not desired. Note that conditions apply, such as for the purpose of interfering in delivery or prying into the affiars of another. No exclusions are made.
    • Shouldn't we have some sort of mandate similar to Usenet signatures?

      There is no mandate on Usenet signatures. Same as there is no mandate on top-posting and quoting.

      It's all voluntary. If the poster doesn't follow the guidelines (which is what they are) the worst that can happen is that they don't potentially get all the possible responses they could (or they get a couple of extra rude ones they didn't expect).

      In short, newsgroup etiquette on signatures, quoting and top-posting doesn't work and it wou

    • by gcaseye6677 (694805) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:33AM (#9315899)
      I asked my lawyer friend about this, and he said the only legal purpose that these disclaimers can really serve is to prevent the sender from accidentally waiving any rights they may hold. For example, attorney client privilege is a very big deal to lawyers. They must be able to communicate in secret with their client. If an email is misdirected and falls into the wrong hands, any information could not be admitted into court as if it were publicly disclosed. Legally, attorney client privilege is still in effect. Of course the accidental recipient would still see it and there wouldn't be much you could do about that, so if something is really confidential, encrypt it. The same thing could apply to trade secrets or any other form of private communication. However, it would be very difficult to take any action against an accidental recipient, regardless of what your disclaimer said, unless you could prove that they acted with malicious intent after receiving the email.
      • I don't know... There was a case in Norway some years ago, where a moron lawyer sent a whole lot of big powerpoint files to a typo-squatter. The typo-squatter warned him several times that he was sending to a wrong address, still it persisted, and after the lawyer sent the squatter a message worth billions, the lawyer called the police and got the squatter arrested for extortion.

        It was a rather weird case, and it bounced between the courts for a while, but I think the final verdict was that the squatter w

      • If a lawyer is sending unencrypted, privileged information in an email, I would think that would be grounds for a malpractice suit, wouldn't it? Email is not even close to being suitable for that kind of stuff -- it would be like talking on a party line and expecting your information to remain private.
    • I beg to differ - those messages are perfectly clear. Let me elucidate:

      ... may be legally privileged and/or confidential and is intended only for the use of the addressee(s).

      The purpose of the message is to "use" the people to whom it has been sent. This clearly shows the solicitation of services, and as such gives permission to bill the sender for my time spent reading it.

      No addressee should forward, print, copy, or otherwise reproduce this message in any manner that would allow it to be viewed by a

    • I consider a 100+ word message at the bottom of an email spam.

      More correctly I think it's a 'dag-tag' [netlingo.com].
  • by Clinoti (696723) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:28AM (#9315166)
    There is also the fine line between culpability and fair use once the message is out in the fields, unless the sending method is sent by a secured source to a trusted source, the email is free and wild. With the amount of sniffing and man in the middle attacks primed and waiting in the background on the internet it would be foolish to think otherwise.

    One of the reasons a lot of companies automatically put the disclaimers / nonsense on the bottom of the email is that it provides them with somewhat of a means of liability protection from information that was sent or processed from their systems, lets not also forget the confidentiality or rather the breaches of, that email allow to happen so frequently and readily.

    Lastly, later if heaven forbid (!) a scandal hits the office involving a lower or sometimes high level employee, emails (which like any segment of a well defined network) may be called up from archives for an investigation internally or externally in a court of law. Stating the MULA on the bottom of correspondence, while generally accepted in people_to_people terms as fodder, is actually a wise move for a corporation to show its partners, employees, and potential revenue sources the fact that they place internal memos and all communications in the same manner that they would (as any entity with a sense of self preservation) deem a legal document.

    • by Croaker-bg (784660) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:37AM (#9315258)
      "...unless the sending method is sent by a secured source to a trusted source, the email is free and wild."


      The funny part about all this is that the most prevelant abuse you will see with one of these happy disclaimers at the bottom is an email that an employee has sent to themselves at their AO-hel-L address to work on at home and then forward back to work once it is complete. You can pretty much guaruntee it will be an HR person and it is going to have HIPAA or SarbanesOxley information in it and that no number of disclaimers is going to stop the impending lawsuit if it ends up posted to the web or in some Phishers hands.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:47AM (#9315401)
      Here in Texas whenever you send an email to a state or local government official, it automatically constitutes a public record, regardless of any disclaimers attached, and is subject to the state's open records availablility and record retention laws.
    • by delcielo (217760) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:06AM (#9315592) Journal
      Without even reading it, I generally know that the italicized last paragraph is some nonsense regarding either an opt-out list, or privacy statement, or this type of goofy disclaimer junk. So am I bound to the terms if I just don't read the bottom italicized paragraph? Even though I know it may contain a disclaimer?

      I would think that I would have to not only read something binding; but agree to it as well before I could actually be bound by it.
    • by clamantis (708173) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:49AM (#9316129)
      As one who negotiates NDAs for a major corporation, I have advised clients that these "disclaimers" are inappropriate in negotiation. You can't dictate the terms of a confidentiality agreement in an e-mail sig, but only in an agreement duly signed by both parties. Even click-and-accept agreements like EULAs are not recognized in some countries, and so we have to insist on signed paper in those cases. (eg: http://articles.corporate.findlaw.com/articles/fil e/00051/005095/title/Subject/topic/Intellectual%20 Property%20Law_Licensing/filename/intellectualprop ertylaw_1_239 ) We do not use disclaimers like this on e-mails, although attorneys advise that their messages should be considered atty-client privilege if marked confidential. And in those cases, they should never be forwarded outside the company. Point is if you're really serious about electronic data getting into the wrong hands, don't use unencrypted e-mail. If you're concerned about improper use by the intended recipient, don't send the info without a non-disclosure agreement.
    • This should be renamed to the Mail User Agreement License.

      You hereby agree to the MAUL imposed with this message. If you do not agree to this MAULing and continue reading then we will send somebody around for a Better Educated Assessment Test (BEATing).
  • by BabyDave (575083) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:28AM (#9315167)

    "If you are not the intended recipient, please delete this message unread"

    Of course, it was at the bottom of the e-mail.

    • That's a boiler plate in the financial world in other forms of communications. Basically, the litteral meaning is an request that to the reader to forget you ever saw a document you weren't supposed to see in the first place, since tacking action based on information you didn't legally obtain is usually a path that leads to legal trouble for the sender. Of course, such a request will always be honored by moral players, and always be ignored by immoral players. Such is life...
      • You see, this depends on the actual law in the recipient's jurisdiction.

        Where I live, anything that is sent to me, having my name/address in headers makes me legal recipient. As such I have all rights to the correspondence, including publishing it on the web or street corner. The sender may *kindly* ask me to refrain from doing so, but I'm not required to. The only way it might hold would be if the email contained state secrets, maybe.

        So these disclaimers really lack Void where prohibited at the end :-)
        • They dont need "Void where prohibited" to be voided. The courts, if it got that far would just declare it void. The only reason agreements sometimes have similar clauses is to say something like, "the prohibited bits of the agreement are void, but the rest still stands", because otherwise the complete agreement would be voided on one prohibited clause, and if it is a long and complicated agreement, that would be quite possible.
  • Interesting. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jwthompson2 (749521) * <james.plainprograms@com> on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:29AM (#9315173) Homepage
    Good article, Stupid Companies...

    You would think with the big bucks that companies shell out for attorneys they would have come up with something more workable or just not bother if it doesn't actually protect them. But then again, spreading FUD can be effective too I guess...
    • Re:Interesting. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by lukewarmfusion (726141) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:42AM (#9315325) Homepage Journal
      The interesting thing is that the email comes to you generally unsolicited. If the sender accidentally delivers it to the wrong address, then it's unsolicited. You can't force people to agree to a contract - especially by sending them an email with legal crap tacked onto the end.

      If you have any reason to protect the contents of the email, use encryption (for the eavesdropper), use some verification (for the unintended recipient), and make your intended recipient sign an NDA before you send them emails with sensitive info in them.

      I'll be forwarding this article to my boss, who has recently added a similar statement to his sig.
  • ...then I will consider it an unsolicited gift from you, with which I will do whatever I want.

    IOW, tacking a too-bad-if-you-looked legal threat to the end of your email does not establish any sort of contract between us.
    • Funny how that doesn't really translate to the real world.

      If you opened a paper mail (or package!) meant for your neighbors, but accidentally shipped to your box instead, you would be committing a federal crime in the US, the exception being certain authorities when they have established probable cause or have a warrant.

      I don't know how other countries handle it but I imagine that it is common.
    • by the pickle (261584) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:43AM (#9315347) Homepage
      There's already precedent for this in the postal system, at least here in the United States.

      If you receive something unsolicited in the US Mail (which includes something addressed to you by accident, but not addressed to someone else and simply left in the wrong mailbox), you are free to do with it as you wish. The sender cannot compel you to obey any license agreement or follow any restrictions they might wish to place on its use, within the bounds of the law. (That is, you can't go out and beat someone up with a billy club someone sends you in the mail, because that would otherwise violate the law, but you're free to use it as a billy club even if the company who sent it to you says it's a sex toy for cows.)

      There was a great deal of discussion about this back when DigitalConvergence (remember them?) was sending unsolicited CueCats to people and then suing them for taking them apart and hacking them.

      Some info on that situation:

      http://www.beau.lib.la.us/~jmorris/linux/cuecat/ [lib.la.us]
      http://air-soldier.com/~cuecat/ [air-soldier.com]
      http://www.xmission.com/~rebling/pub/cuecat.html [xmission.com]
      http://www.logorrhea.com/cuecat/mirrors.html [logorrhea.com]

      More on Google; search for "CueCat."

      p
      • I see a loophole here for software shrink wrap agreements. I receive several pieces of unsolicited software in the mail from AOL, regularly. Does this mean that I have agreed to nothing and may do anything I wish with them, including disassembly, reverse engineering, duplication, modification, and distribution?

      • by DonGar (204570) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:16AM (#9315671) Homepage
        The original purpose of the law was to nix an old scam. Shady companies would ship merchandise to people at random, and them send them a bill.

        Originally, people had the legal obligation to return the goods or to pay for them. The companies would make it so hard to return the goods that it was easier to just pay the bill.

        In response, Congress came up with a reasonable law that just made the problem go away. Amazing.
        • Now they just send the bill without any goods, and remarkably people pay them.

          I've been trying to convince a friend that we need to start a business providing a legitimate (ie, you'd actually be able to use it) service that nobody needs or wants and just "sign people up" for it and send them bills. Those that paid the bill got their accounts left active, and those who didn't pay the first two bills we'd cancel until we tried them again.

          The business we thought we'd set up was "internet service" -- buy a P
    • On the first mis-transmitted message, I'm inclined to agree with you.

      However, if you continue to get e-mails that you're not supposed to get and you don't take a pro-active action to stop them, then you are accepting the information that you're being given... and in financial land if that's insider information and you take action on it, that's insider trading.

      I think that's the real point of such disclaimers. If you're not the person this e-mail was supposed to go to, you've intercepted it and if you cont
      • However, if you continue to get e-mails that you're not supposed to get and you don't take a pro-active action to stop them, then you are accepting the information that you're being given...

        I don't know that I completely agree with that. I get hundreds of messages a day that are filtered to my spam folder. I may or may not ever read or even look at the subjects.

  • by Sweetshark (696449) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:32AM (#9315207)
    about this here [goldmark.org]. And it also has a collection of stupid disclaimers ..
  • so, when i send out jokes on my company email with the disclaimer it could get misused. oh the horror.
  • Its All Mine! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Shmooze (784340) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:34AM (#9315226)
    In the UK received mail is the property of the receiver, to do with what they like...

    Therefore you can forward emailed confidential information as much as you like!

    Note of course that true email goes through SMTP across the net, not just through some companies mail server.
  • by colinleroy (592025) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:35AM (#9315229) Homepage
    IMPORTANT: This email is intended for the use of the individual addressee(s) named above and may contain information that is confidential, privileged or unsuitable for overly sensitive persons with low self-esteem, no sense of humour or irrational religious beliefs. If you are not the intended recipient, any dissemination, distribution or copying of this email is not authorised (either explicitly or implicitly) and constitutes an irritating social faux pas. Unless the word absquatulation has been used in its correct context somewhere other than in this warning, it does not have any legal or grammatical use and may be ignored. No animals were harmed in the transmission of this email, although the yorkshire terrier next door is living on borrowed time, let me tell you. Those of you with an overwhelming fear of the unknown will be gratified to learn that there is no hidden message revealed by reading this warning backwards, so just ignore that Alert Notice from Microsoft: However, by pouring a complete circle of salt around yourself and your computer you can ensure that no harm befalls you and your pets. If you have received this email in error, please add some nutmeg and egg whites and place it in a warm oven for 40 minutes. Whisk briefly and let it stand for 2 hours before icing.
    (Lifted from http://www.goldmark.org/jeff/stupid-disclaimers/ [goldmark.org])
  • HIPAA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:35AM (#9315235)
    I've seen this mostly as a way to comply with HIPAA. HIPAA, governing confidentiality of medical information, doesn't mean you actually have to be secure, just that you have to take reasonable security measures. Many nonprofits have taken this to mean they can send whatever they want via e-mail as long as they tack a disclaimer onto the end. Of course, it's completely ridiculous, but everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn't we jump off that cliff too?
  • by wiggys (621350) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:36AM (#9315239)
    It's not only email disclaimers which are annoying and stupid (not to mention a waste of bandwidth) - what about those messages which say "This email has been certified virus free by xxxxx"?

    I wouldnt trust that message any more than I would trust an executable attachment because for all I know a virus could email itself to me with a message saying "This email is virus free" in the hopes I unplug my brain before running the attachment.

    BTW, returning to the topic for a minute, email disclaimers piss me off when they tell me what I can and can't do with an email I received. Er... excuse me but if someone sends an email to me by mistake I will do whatever the fuck I like with it, thank you very much! :P

    • It's not only email disclaimers which are annoying and stupid (not to mention a waste of bandwidth) - what about those messages which say "This email has been certified virus free by xxxxx"?
      I've always assumed that was just advertising for the virus-scanner more than anything else. You know, to get people to use their product to certify THEIR outgoing email.
  • This article reminds me of my old usenet signature - and an alt.fan.warlord post [google.com] (Subject: Makes my teeth itch) that JCEvans made in February 1997.

    You'll have to follow the link to see the signature crunching in all its glory...
  • Legal != Sensible (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drdanny_orig (585847) * on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:38AM (#9315267)
    The author makes one unfortunate assumption, IMO. Whether or not such disclaimers make sense is immaterial. If a court finds them binding, they are binding. And remember, judges are just lawyers with state-approved uniforms.
    • Also, don't forget that even though judges are supposed to be unbiased they all have their own agendas. If you take that to enough courts/appeals they can find one judge to support it.
    • Whether or not such disclaimers make sense is immaterial. If a court finds them binding, they are binding.
      You are, of course, correct about that.

      But I doubt that these would hold up in court, and have even argued that they may make you more vulnerable [goldmark.org] legally.

    • Re:Legal != Sensible (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FuzzyBad-Mofo (184327) <fuzzybad&gmail,com> on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @12:01PM (#9316297)

      I'm currently taking a course in business law. These disclaimers are theoretically a contract, so let's examine them to see if they are valid:

      Contracts have four requirements to be valid:

      • Agreement
      • Consideration
      • Capacity
      • Legality
      Agreement: Even if you have a previous business relationship with the sender, this "disclaimer" would constiture new terms, and thus be considered terms for a new contract. The recipient is under no obligation to accept.
      Consideration: The sender is offering nothing of value in return for acceptance. Courts usually don't look fondly upon one-sided contracts.
      Capacity: The recipient may have contractual capacity (age, mental competance, etc), or they may not. In the case of an email transmission, capacity of both parties is unknown.
      Legality: The terms of the contract must be legal. Courts usually frown on contracts that reduce the constitutional rights of the offeree, especially if the offeror wields an undue amount of power.

      Summary: Take this "contract" before a Judge and it will be laughed out of court.

      Disclaimer: IANAL

  • May just be my employer's advertising blocking software, but this was the hardest to read article I've seen in a long time. Text on top of text for 3/4ths of the article (the length of the left side menu bar) in IE 6.0 (look, I don't have a choice at work, ok?).

    Still, interesting article. Looks like this is about as enforcible as those stupid non-disclosure agreements all the .coms used to make us sign.
  • The problem with these things is when one gets added on to an existing email thread that has bounced back and forth between other people for a while. At that point half the message or more is just repeated quotes of the signature. Email cliens like Outlook with their default quoting mechansim are only partly to blame for this. Now I understand that in a corporate environment that it is important to keep everything for legal purposes, but it's still annoying. I really really don't need it in personal cor
  • These are foolish (Score:3, Informative)

    by phunster (701222) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:41AM (#9315305)
    Because these warnings are sent with every e-mail and annoyingly to many mailing lists they are legally untenable. In order for these warnings to have real meaning they should only be used on mail that is actually private and meant for one individual or organization. When you send an e-mail to a mailing list, for instance, you should know that most of them are archived and certainly your e-mail will have a long life in the google archives.

    I don't imagine that you will have a good outcome in court when you ask the judge to sanction one reader who violated the warning. Your honor, here are ten e-mails that the same person sent to mailing lists with the same warning, how can I take the warning seriously when the sender doesn't?
    • Your honor, here are ten e-mails that the same person sent to mailing lists with the same warning, how can I take the warning seriously when the sender doesn't?

      I suspect the reply would be something along the lines of:

      We're not here to guess the intentions of the sender. We're here to decide if you violated the Terms of Use of this one email, which you did. Guilty as charged! Next case?"

      No, it doesn't have to make sense to the mythical "man in the street", just so long as it makes sense to the lawyer

  • spam too (Score:5, Funny)

    by mabu (178417) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:41AM (#9315317)
    I just got a spam message that had this at the bottom:

    This message is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential and exempt from disclosure under applicable law. If you have received this message in error, you are hereby notified that we do not consent to any reading, dissemination, distribution or copying of this message. If you have received this communication in error, please notify the sender immediately and destroy the transmitted information.

    Of course, all the header info is forged, so now I'm freaking out since I can't get in touch with them to let them know that this sensitive penis creme enlargement trade secret information may have fallen into the wrong hands!
    • Re:spam too (Score:4, Informative)

      by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:46AM (#9315386)
      Spammers are likely including that paragraph because mimics one that is likely to appear in messages that a lot of people are marking non-spam in their bayesian filters. Whenever any line of text becomes too popular in e-mail, I'm sure we'll see spammers there to capitalize.
  • by Henrik S. Hansen (775975) <hsh@member.fsf.org> on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:42AM (#9315327) Homepage
    Favorite disclaimer:

    The goatse.cx lawyer has informed us that we need a warning! So.. if you are under the age of 18 or find this photograph offensive, please don't look at it. Thank you!

  • I fail to see the humor in this thread.


    This message is the property of Notestein or its affiliates. It may be legally privileged and/or confidential and is intended only for the use of this thread(s). No thread reader should forward, print, copy, or otherwise reproduce this post in any manner that would allow it to be viewed by any individual not originally listed as a reader of this thread. If the reader of this post is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any unauthorized disclosure
  • My new sig (Score:2, Redundant)

    by fungus (37425)
    This slashdot comment and any attachments thereto may contain private, confidential, and privileged material for the sole use of the intended recipient named in the original comment to which this message was attached. Any review, copying, or distribution of this comment (or any attachments thereto) by others is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please return this slashdot comment to the sender immediately and permanently delete the original and any copies of this comment and any at
  • Think about it. No one can make you legally bound for something they just send to you. A legal status such as copyright can be infered, but not much else. This is a typical legal tactic of bullying without much more then impressive verbage to stand behind.

    Anyone ever estimate how much space these things are wasting on servers all over the US (I'm assuming this is unique to the US)?
  • This facsimile transmission is intended only for the addressee(s) shown above. It may contain information that is privileged, confidential, or otherwise protected from disclosure. Any review, dissemination, or use of this transmission or its contents by persons other than the addressee is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmission in error, please notify us immediately at the telephone number listed above and destroy the material you received.

    What's funny is I just copied it from an attor
  • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@NospAm.keirstead.org> on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:47AM (#9315397) Homepage
    Putting a disclaimer at the bottom of a message is utterly ridiculous. It is like posting a biuig notice on the side of a building, then at the bottom adding "This message is (c) Foobar, anyone reading it agress to pay me 5 million dollars". You have to stipulate terms of a license *before* the licensed product, not after.

    To realy get them, why not add the following reply to your SMTP HELO response on your mailserver: "Any email sent to this system is considered the personal property of Foobar, and all rights and copyrights associated with said email are automatically assigned to Foobar. Your use of this system constitutes acceptance of this agreement."

    It would be just as ridiculous as the email signatures.

  • by DaHat (247651) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:48AM (#9315416) Homepage
    ... one can still gripe about the 'confidentiality' of an e-mail and have a case (albeit limited).

    Not too long ago I was having a bit of an e-mail battle with a professor and as many of what he said was flat out wrong, I put up a small webpage with the unabridged text of the e-mails for other students in the class to read so they would be aware of the problems I had raised which concerned them all.

    The professor later threatened to sue me for "libel, slander and defamation" because of the "publication of our confidential and private e-mail conversations", even though there was no disclaimer or even an assumption of privacy.

    Thankfully, given a number of illegal things he had done in the e-mails (IE blowing off FERPA), any such case would have been thrown out quite quickly.

    When I told this story to my father, he told me a quote he heard long ago:

    "Never put something in a letter that you don't want the other guy's lawyer holding up in court"

    The moral of this story: Disclaimer or not, don't write anything in an e-mail, letter, diary, word document that you don't want getting out.

  • Working support, I love it when people send emails asking for help to completely the wrong email address. ie rather than emailing support@ they email partners@or advertising@. According to the 'contract' in their email the recpiant can't even forward it to anyone else.

    I ignore these just like I ignore flashing ad banners, George Bush, and non-residential speed limits. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:51AM (#9315446)
    DISCLAIMER:

    This email will self destruct your computer in 5 seconds!

    5...
    4...
    3...
    2...
    1...
    If not using Outlook, Please click on attachment "EvilVirus.vbs"
  • ***
    Article copyright (c) IBMWR and the author(s). All rights reserved.
    Unsubscribe directions at http://www.ibmwr.org/faq-files/mail.shtml#SUB
    ** *

    This was done because a company was repackaging the e-mail messages of this mail list. If anything the disclaimer can be used to stop unlawful reproduction.

    It would be akin to receiving the secret formulae to Coke with a disclaimer/legalese at the bottom and posting it. The results would be interesting.

    Do these disclaimers have more weight if the e-mail is res
  • ----

    This message is property of ad0gg or his affiliates. No moderator should mod down this message in any form or manner. No poster should use in whole or in part this message, if poster intent is to slander the owner of the message.

  • Whatever. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Gannoc (210256) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @10:59AM (#9315527)

    ATTENTION: If your name is not John P. Smith, by reading this message you agree to shove a pen in your eye.

  • This is plenty silly. While not just PGP sign the mails instead of adding a disclaimer saying "this mail is not signed, integrity is not verifiable"?

  • Britany Spears-"Opps, I sent it again."
    Michael Jackson-"This message is inteneded for receipients 12 and under. Otherwise please disregard without reading."
    George W. Bush -"Any email from Iraq will be considered a WMD, weapon of mass dissemination, and will be immediately acted upon with extreme prejudice"
    Tony Blair-"Whatever George said."
    James Earl Jones-"Will do any film for $9999.95."
    George Lucas-"Any message sent from this server can be freely used as a plot device in an upcoming special effects driven feature without any additional payment. Besides, it may make Episode III better." Bill Clinton-"I never said that." Bill Gates -"Cross us an we will crush you, unless it gets press, which nets you an X-Box for the crushing."
  • longest disclaimer (Score:2, Informative)

    by sentientbeing (688713)
    I remember a while back the register presenting articles similar to this:

    longest email disclaimer [theregister.co.uk]

    Most incomprehensible [theregister.co.uk]

    Original article [theregister.co.uk]

    (All obligingly and typically repeated in full..!)
  • by entrager (567758) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:04AM (#9315573)
    Here is a disclaimer for all e-mail that my company sends out:

    NOTICE: This communication and any files transmitted with it ("communication") may contain privileged or other confidential information. This communication is intended solely for the individual or entity to whom it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, or believe that you have received this communication in error, please do not print, copy, retransmit, disseminate, or otherwise use this communication. Also, please indicate to the sender that you have received this communication in error, and then delete this communication and any copies. Thank you.

    And for some reason our admins are complaining about the amount of space that our e-mail servers consume....
  • Isn't the first requirement for a contract of any kind that there be a "Meeting of the Minds"? Wouldn't a one way contract you don't see until after you perform the possibly restricted act automatically fail that test?
    • by pjt33 (739471)
      Under British, a contract requires offer, acceptance, intent to create legal relations, and consideration. An e-mail disclaimer meets none of those.
  • by igrp (732252) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:12AM (#9315637)
    In my opinion, email disclaimers are counterproductive at best. As the article notes, the legality of these email disclaimers is questionable at best (there are, however, some circumstances when these disclaimers can be legally binding).

    This is especially true considering the enforceability of these disclaimers, or rather lack thereof, when the recipient is subject to a different jurisdiction.

    A few weeks ago I had to personally deal with email disclaimers. An acquaintance of mine had sent an email containing his company's email footer to multiple recipients at the same site (a big company) which neither of them ever received. Turns out, the spam filter caught the email and dropped it because of its low content-to-repetition (read garbage) ratio.

  • I suspect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BCW2 (168187) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:20AM (#9315705) Journal
    That if one ever goes to court, it will be as good as a waiver of responsibility, (ie, amusment park, ride at your own risk). All lawyers want you to have them and NOT A SINGLE ONE has ever stood up in court in the US. They are a great supply of emergency toilet paper, but completely useless otherwise.
  • by bastion_xx (233612) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:39AM (#9315970)
    Although most email disclaimers are annoying at the best of times, they can provide assurances to shareholders, management and such.

    Most internal correspondence dealing with company secrets and assests have similar disclaimers ranging from the simple "confidential" to multi-line legalese. Consider finding a document with truly important information in a dumpster.

    Legally the document could be read by anyone as it's in a public place. If there is no disclaimer the information could be redistributed as the recipient has no idea if the information is confidential or not.

    However, if the document was labeled confidential, copyrighted , whatnot, could taint anyone who redistrbutes or uses it, such as competitors.

    The same analogy could be applied to email messages with disclaimers. Would it hold up in court or lessen the damage to the company that accidently sent it to the wrong party? Probably not. But it does show that the company does have some inkling, no matter how small, of classifying information assets.
  • by brassman (112558) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:42AM (#9316022) Homepage
    The author of this email states that any "disclaimer" that appears below this sentence was added without his consent.
  • by T3kno (51315) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:45AM (#9316056) Homepage
    This is an email. It is the electronic equivalent of a POSTCARD. It has been split up into hundreds or thousands packets and blasted throughout the globe. Logged, scanned, filtered, parsed, grepped and heuristically analyzed by countless computers as well as humans. I wear a shirt that says "I read your email." If you for one moment think, believe, hold notion, or otherwise have the slightest inclination that anything you send via email is confidential you are an idiot. If you for one moment think, believe, hold notion, or otherwise have the slightest inclination that anything you send via email is only being read by the intended reciepients you are an idiot. If you have read this far you are an idiot.

    • My reply (Score:5, Funny)

      by heikkile (111814) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:22PM (#9317953) Homepage
      To whom it may concern,

      I have received numerous email messages with your company standard disclaimer on the bottom. I hereby notify you that to my best knowledge, I have not signed any non-disclosure agreements with you. Therefore I am free to publish, disseminate, discuss, and use the information in said mails as I damn well please.

      As a reasonable person, I am willing to find a compromise. If you compensate for my time and trouble, I am willing to send you copies of said emails. Let's say $100 a piece, or $20000 for the whole pile. After that you can make me an offer for a non-disclosure agreement, and if I find the terms agreeable, I may even sign it.

      As a courtesy, I will remain relatively quiet about those mails and about this correspondance, for the next seven days. After that, I make no promises.

      Yours sincerely

      J.Random Luser

  • by FU_Fish (140910) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @11:48AM (#9316110) Homepage
    Thankfully, we're not required to put such a disclaimer on e-mails at my work.

    * This comment is own by FU_Fish and is intended only to be read by Slashdot users. If you do not have a slashdot account, you must forget that you ever read the above comment or face actions to swift and ruthless to name. *

    ** The above disclaimer is also owned by FU_Fish. By reading the above disclaimer you have agreed to its Terms Of Use, which does not allow reproduction in any way, including quoting, printing, or modding. **
  • other issues (Score:3, Informative)

    by curator_thew (778098) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @12:23PM (#9316607)

    Most of the commentary has ignored a few important points:

    (a) if there were ever legal action over an email (say, for example, that you described something important in the email, and the person used it elsewhere), the fact that you have a disclaimer makes it _stronger_ evidence in the court, that would make damages and remedies much easier: the defendent would not be able to claim "d'oh, I did not know" or argue some other implied license, etc. Often the disclaimer is just explictly stating what is already implicit: because what's implicit to me is not always considered that by you: which is why we have written contracts to make all the details clear.

    (b) on the issue of confidentiality: it _is_ true that there is no confidentiality in unsolicited messages, thus the "disclosure" disclaimer is junk, _however_ there is always copyright in your email, so while the recipient may be able to generally disclose what they obtained, that may not disclose the _actual detail_ of it without violating your copyright.

    On point (b) is a good example: a lawyer sends you an unsolicited C&D with a disclaimer: you are actually free to run around and tell people about what happened, but if you actually _reproduce_ the entire C&D itself verbatim, you would probably be violating the copyright in the letter.

    Personally, I use disclaimers: because frankly some people are quite free and easy with forwarding emails off to other people when I am addressing a specific question to them, not to a general audience. Of course, I don't write anything that would offend other people, but in some cases, material has been forwarded out of context. There's really not much I can do, but if there ever _was_ a nasty situation, then at least I know that I've bought myself a _little_ insurance with some explicit disclaimer.

    • You say that a disclaimer may make it impossible for people to claim "I didnt know" in court.

      But the main problem with these disclaimers is that they try to add restrictions on the way you may use the email.
      And they cannot do this.
      And when the disclaimer is essentially b*llsh*t, people CAN claim in court : "Well, there where these 41 unenforcable claims, how could I know that the 42th was enforcable?"

      You may be right over point a), but this applies only to rights you already have over your email and the O

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