Email Signatures Requiring Confidentiality

Recently Chris Erb at erblawg wrote a post that hit on something that annoys me: the email signature that purportedly prohibits me from from doing anything with the message. Chris explains his frustration thusly:

These signatures are a pet peeve of mine. While the sender may hope that a couple of words in all caps will scare people into submission, there’s very little in the way of legal action which could be taken in the event I were to do any or all of those things. Quite simply, by sharing their wisdom with me outside of some contractual limitation on my behavior as the recipient (such as a confidentiality agreement between me and the sender) they ceded a significant meassure of control over the distribution of that wisdom. Absent any other restriction, the only real limitation on distribution would be copyright law, which may or may not help depending on the nature of the use. To my way of thinking, they’d be better off politely asking the recipient not to do those things and hope for the best. In my case, the mere attempt to “prohibit” makes me want to distribute the e-mail (or at least write a blog entry berating them for having a silly signature).

I agree with him on all of these points. One of my favorite comments, however, is what he ends with:

Of course, in this particular instance there’s another problem. Even if this were enforceable as written, I could, as a presumably “intended” recipient, apparently broadcast the e-mail to the world without arousing the ire of [the sender] . . . .

My favorite is when the “don’t distribute” warning is coupled with the “everything in this email is confidential and/or privileged” warning. What gets even better, is when I see this big long warning about not distributing the email, that the information is confidential and protected by privilege, and this entire warning is on the bottom of an email that is sent to a listserv that is distributed to thousands or tens of thousands of attorneys.

I know lots of people who use these warnings, but that doesn’t mean that you should do it. Think about the email that you are sending. If it contains confidential information, then label it as confidential (at the beginning of the email, not the end). Better yet, if the email really contains confidential information, is that something you should be sending via email. Is there a better way to communicate the information? Should you be using some sort of encrypted email?

Whatever you do, just don’t tag every email that you send with the same stupid warning about it being confidential and to not distribute it.

2 thoughts on “Email Signatures Requiring Confidentiality

Comments are closed.