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Reading competitors’ e-mail. Legally!

Reading competitors’ e-mail. Legally!

The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. BRADFORD S. COUNCILMAN), in noting the decision of  United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (ROBERT C. KONOP v. HAWAIIAN AIRLINES, INC., CV-96-04898-SJL), has made it clear that a provider of e-mail services can read e-mail sent by customers, and that they can use this information for their own benefit. This opens up a lot of possibilities.

One, of course, is the acquisition of information that can be used to the advantage of whomever reads the e-mail.

Another is that it now becomes attractive to form a service provider with the specific intention of gathering information from client e-mail. Or getting someone hired as an employee of a service provider handling clients in whom you have an interest. Or suborning an employee of such a company.

This decision also tells us that if you are concerned about other people reading your e-mail, it is now even more imperative that you send it in an encrypted form. One widely used set of encryption tools is PGP, which is available in freeware (http://web.mit.edu/network/pgp.html) and enterprise (http://www.pgp.com/) solutions. The software can be made to integrate with most commonly used e-mail clients, including Outlook, Outlook Express, Notes, Groupwise, ICQ, Entourage Apple Mail.app, and even The Bat!, which this editor uses.

Why would one not use encryption for sensitive e-mail? We are hard pressed to come up with a valid reason. While use of encryption does require remembering your secret passphrase, the difference between sending or receiving an encrypted e-mail versus an unencrypted e-mail, or of sending and receiving an encrypted attachment versus an unencrypted attachment, is literally a matter of mere seconds, so there is no valid reason not to encrypt sensitive e-mail.

Get encryption software. Use encryption software.

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