It's Your Call: Which E-mail Disclaimer is Best? (LONG)

Subject: It's Your Call: Which E-mail Disclaimer is Best? (LONG)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001 08:45:40 -0400

Robert B. Kennedy <<... was recently asked to edit a lengthy e-mail
disclaimer... The manager's intent was to reduce the
word count substantially -- which is what I did... Yet corporate counsel
says the edited version "reads poorly.">>

Heh. A _lawyer_ is telling you that you write badly? Excuse me. Heh.

<<Original: The contents of this e-mail and any attached documents contain
information that may be confidential. Unless
you are the named addressee (or authorized to receive for the named
addressee) you may not read, copy, distribute, disclose or otherwise use
this information for any purpose. If you have received this transmission in
error, please notify the sender immediately by reply e-mail and then delete
this message from your system. While we make every effort to keep our
network free from viruses, you do need to check this e-mail and any
attachments to it for viruses as we can take no responsibility for any
computer virus which might be transferred by way of this e-mail.
Edited Version: This e-mail (and any attachments) may be confidential.
Unless you're the addressee (or you are authorized to receive for addressee)
you may not read, copy, distribute, disclose or otherwise use this
information. If you're not the intended recipient, please send this back to
sender, then delete this e-mail. We protect ourselves against
viruses, nonetheless, this e-mail (and any attachments), should be checked
for viruses. We take no responsibility for viruses sent via e-mail.>>

A few thoughts before I reword. First, it's probably safe to say that the
contents _include_ (not "may include") confidential information. If that's
wrong, nobody is going to be bent out of shape, but given that you're
explicitly sending it to a defined audience (otherwise why say "tell us if
you got it by mistake"?), all messages that contain this disclaimer are
inherently confidential to a greater or lesser degree. Second, "delete it"
isn't useful advice: if the message isn't interesting to them, they'll
delete it anyway, but if it is, a disclaimer won't persuade them to delete
it. Third, the whole notion of saying "you may not read it" is inherently
ludicrous: they _have to_ read it to spot the disclaimer, and even if the
disclaimer appears at the top of the message, the word "confidential" will
make most people take a long, hard look at the contents to find out what's
so interesting. Fourth, though denying responsibility for viruses may soothe
your lawyer's soul, it's either legally indefensible (you didn't exercise
due diligence and thus you're liable for your actions) or redundant (you did
exercise due diligence) and thus you probably aren't going to be held liable
for any viruses that sneak through. I define due diligence as regularly (at
least weekly) updating your antivirus software and making sure that no
attachments get sent unless you really intended to send them. Fifth, I've
simplified some of the language (e.g., "addressee" becomes the more familiar
"recipient", "message" instead of "transmission"). Sixth, I've deleted the
bit about "e-mail reply", since they might prefer telephoning or walking
down the hall, and I've replaced "immediately" (kind of hostile) with "as
soon as possible." Thus, the rewrite:

"This e-mail and any attached documents are confidential. Please don't copy,
redistribute, or otherwise use this information if you are not the named
recipient or that person's representative. If you received this message in
error, please notify the sender as soon as possible."

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
do something about it."--Jon Shear


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