Sponsored by: This story appeared on Network World Fusion at http://www.nwfusion.com/columnists/2002/0506bradner.html 'Net Insider: Automatic and thus meaningless By Scott Bradner Network World, 05/06/02 In their zeal to protect their companies' secrets, some corporate managers are mostly succeeding at making their employers look dumb while avoiding doing anything real. The following trailer showed up recently on an Internet Engineering Task Force public mailing list: (Name changed to protect the silly.) "Information contained in this E-MAIL being proprietary to MyCo is 'privileged' and 'confidential' and intended for use only by the individual or entity to which it is addressed. You are notified that any use, copying or dissemination of the information contained in the E-MAIL in any manner whatsoever is strictly prohibited." I asked, semipolitely, why a message sent to a public list would include a trailer claiming that the e-mail contained proprietary, privileged and confidential information. The sender responded: "It's company policy" and that all e-mail sent by anyone in the company gets the trailer added automatically by the mail system. I was told in another case that company policy said an employee could not get a private e-mail address elsewhere (such as Hotmail) to use when working with public mail lists to avoid the trailers. This means that company lawyers are not doing their jobs and that there has been a triumph of form over substance. The lawyers have substituted an automatic, and mostly invisible, technical solution to a real process problem. In doing so they have left the problem unsolved. The use of the trailer in the cited case is meaningless at best. You cannot send mail to a public mailing list and somehow put a legal responsibility on the readers of that list not to disseminate the message. Nor can you keep the mailing list operator from archiving messages sent to the list. Both of these actions would be violations of the above trailer. The first time I saw this type of trailer was on mail addressed to me from a lawyer. I can see the possible utility of such a trailer in that situation, but even there I'm not sure that I would be bound by its requirements if the letter was unsolicited, and I had no previous relationship with the lawyer. It can be a real problem when confidential e-mail gets sent to the wrong person, and it's reasonable to try to protect oneself in case this happens. But it seems to me that overuse, and, in particular, automatic use in clearly inappropriate cases reduces the legal strength of any admonition. So at least there should be a way to let the system know that you are sending mail to a public forum so as to avoid appending the trailer. I would worry about other aspects of any company that does this type of automatic trailer addition. If the lawyers decided not to think about the details of the issues in this case, what else have they skipped over? Disclaimer: Harvard Law School does not, to my knowledge, offer classes in skipping - so the above observation is my own nonlegal one. Related Links All contents copyright 1995-2002 Network World, Inc. http://www.nwfusion.com