Email Confidentiality Statements

A Great Way for System Administrators to Make Fools of Corporate Executives - At the Executives' Request

June 2, 2007

You've probably encountered emails with this message, or a similar message at the end of the message - usually after even the signature:

The information contained in this message may be privileged and confidential and protected from disclosure. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, or an employee or agent responsible for delivering this message to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by replying to the message and deleting it from your computer. Thank you.

This definitely ranks as stupid, possibly as very stupid, and definitely shows that the business owners at the organizations doing this do not understand email - and probably do not understand the internet.

These are generally appended by the email server onto any outgoing message, ostensibly to protect the business owner in the case that the information that may or may not be included in the message may or may not be encountered by someone who may or may not be involved in whatever the information that may or may not have been in the message may or may not have been about. Confusing? It should be.

I don't know if this would hold up in court or not, but I certainly hope it would not. Email is a directed broadcast medium. Any email message will pass through multiple servers and routers when looking for a rout to its destination. The statement above is similar to someone getting on NPR and saying whatever they wanted to say, then, after the message was broadcast, coming back in and stating that their previous public announcement was private and privileged information only for the intended recipient. If a businessman were to do this, they would be laughed out of town - but they do it every day with this stupid footer appended to every email message broadcast out of their corporate computer network.

I mentioned above that this is often automatically appended to email messages by the server without the knowledge of the sender. You would think that the mail server administrator would have a clue about this, and wouldn't bother. In fact, having talked to several of these administrators, I know that they do, generally, agree that this si completely stupid and generally irrelevant. So why do they do it? Because they want to keep their jobs. And, usually, an opportunity to make a fool of an executive who doesn't have a clue is a job perk for the kind of technical person who would be implementing something like this, so they do it. They get to follow instructions, and by following instructions, make an ass of the person giving the instructions, and even get paid to do so! It's a win-win situation for the system administrator - and something that sounds right out of Dilbert.

Remember, next time you see something like this at the bottom of an email, it's definitely worth a laugh.