American in Spain

Confidentiality Notice

December 30, 2008
Reading This Sign Is Strictly Prohibited

When I worked for a government institution twelve years ago, I recall that there were some bigwigs that worked there that had their secretaries print out every email they received and place it on their desk as if letters had arrived. I presume they would dictate responses. I was always amazed at such a fundamental misunderstanding of what electronic mail is about. But it was 1996 and every web page still used the

tag, so I forgive them. One practice that blows my mind and continues to this day is the so called "confidentiality notice". I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, but just in case, I'm going to blatantly and ironically break the law and reproduce one I got in an email today:

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This message and any included attachments are confidential and are intended only for the addressee(s). The information contained herein may be confidential under the attorney/client privilege the quality assurance and peer review privilege. Unauthorized review, forwarding, printing, copying or using such information is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you receive this message in error, or if you have reason to believe you are not authorized to receive it, please promptly notify the sender by e-mail or telephone, and delete the message.

This seems like complete and total tautological nonsense to me. It also seems to be based on the same fundamental misunderstanding that RIAA copyright nazis have; they don't understand that by its very nature it's impossible to move or view or do anything with digital information without copying it. I can't prohibit you from making copies of this blog post because, if you're reading this, there's already a copy of it on your computer!

I would also suspect that, unless I specifically state "Send this to all your friends!" in an email I send, that the contents of my email are "intended only for the addressee(s)". Is this not true? Can I not prosecute you for forwarding an email of mine unless I have one of these notices saying that you can't? Could I then?

Also, I would like to point out that the phrase "Unauthorized ______ is prohibited" is a redundant tautology and therefore meaningless.

Lastly, I find it hard to believe that my government, through legislation and law enforcement, can prohibit me from printing absolutely anything that I have on my computer. Is this really true?

I understand that, if you are one of the millions of people that have an email signature like this, chances are you are forced to have it by your employer and it's not your fault. But it sure seems to me like wasting half a kibibyte of mail server disk space for every single email in your organization is pretty ridiculous. Surely none of this is ever enforced and upheld in a court of law.

My father is somewhat of an expert at the game of Hungry Hungry HIPPA, so maybe he has some insight.

Annoyed and confused.