(redirected from mail system)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Encyclopedia.
Related to mail system: Voice Mail System, Tube mail


Electronic mail, or e-mail, developed as part of the revolution in high-tech communications during the mid 1980s. Although statistics about the number of e-mail users is often difficult to compute, the total number of person-to-person e-mails delivered each day has been estimated at more than ten billion in North America and 16 billion worldwide. Faster and cheaper than traditional mail, this correspondence is commonly sent over office networks, through many national services, and across the Internet.

E-mail is less secure than traditional mail, even though federal law protects e-mail from unauthorized tampering and interception. Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), Pub. L. No. 99-508, 100 Stat. 1848, third parties are forbidden to read private e-mail. However, a loophole in the ECPA that allows employers to read their workers' e-mail has proven especially controversial. It has provoked several lawsuits and has produced legislative and extralegal proposals to increase e-mail privacy.

Congress intended to increase privacy by passing the ECPA. Lawmakers took note of increasingly popular communications devices that were readily susceptible to eavesdropping—cellular telephones, pagers, satellite dishes, and e-mail. The law updated existing federal criminal codes in order to qualify these emerging technologies for constitutional protection under the Fourth Amendment. In the case of e-mail, Congress gave it most of the protection already accorded by law to traditional mail. Just as postal employees may not divulge information about private mail to third parties, neither may e-mail services. The law provides criminal and civil penalties for violators: In cases of third-party interception, it establishes fines of up to $5,000 and prison sentences of up to six months. In cases of industrial espionage—where privacy is invaded for purposes of commercial advantage, malicious destruction, or private commercial gain—it establishes fines of up to $250,000 and prison sentences of up to one year.

Commentators have noted that cases involving employers reading their employees' e-mails tend to favor the employers, especially where the employer owns the equipment that stores the e-mail. Many companies also provide written policies regarding the ownership of stored e-mail messages, indicating whether the employer considers stored e-mail to be the property of the employer.

E-mail raises additional issues of privacy in the context of communications between an attorney and client. Because communications between attorney and client must remain confidential, questions have arisen about whether sending unencrypted e-mail messages by attorneys to clients could pose ethical problems. In 1999, the American Bar Association issued its opinion that the mere use of unencrypted messages does not pose ethical problems.

E-mail raises some evidentiary problems as well. Commentators have noted that the origin of some e-mail messages might be difficult to authenticate, while messages might constitute Hearsay. Nevertheless, many courts have admitted e-mail messages into evidence. To protect against disclosure of private or sensitive information, some attorneys advise employers and employees to exercise caution with e-mail, as it can be subpoenaed. Some experts have advised users to delete their e-mail regularly, and even to avoid saving it in the first place. Still others advocate the use of encryption software, which scrambles messages and makes them unreadable without a digital password.

Further readings

"Harris, Micalyn S. 2002. "Is Email Privacy an Oxymoron? Meeting the Challenge of Formulating a Company Email Policy." Saint John's Journal of Legal Commentary 553.

"Joseph, Gregory P. 2003. "Internet and Email Evidence." ALI-ABA Course of Study.

Pearlstein, Mark W. and Jonathan D. Twombly. 2002. "Cell Phones, Email, and Confidential Communications: Protecting Your Client's Confidences." Boston Bar Journal 20.

References in periodicals archive ?
SMTPGuard has already been used on mail systems for Japanese ISPs with over 100 million accounts, and highly acclaimed by their users as an outstanding anti-SPAM solution.
Information other than pure text: When mail systems were originally designed for the Internet, they were set up only to transmit simple text messages.
The system is based upon the same mail engine used to power the largest mail system in the world.
FacetCorp has taken this email paradigm and moved it to the voice mail system on their state-of-the-art IP-PBX phone system.
If the EMS is activated, every employee of the firm is automatically contacted via external email, text paging, short message service (SMS) to their cell phones or Research In Motion (RIM) wireless messaging with a notice that all corporate email communications have been transferred to the EMS mail system.
The corporate mailroom is often the center of document handling activities, so streamlining and improving complex mail systems can yield significant improvements in business efficiency.
Oce (NASDAQ: OCENY), a global leader in digital document management and delivery solutions, today announced that two of its executives have been tapped for their deep expertise in mail systems management and office services support to fill leadership positions in the New York Chapter of the Mail Systems Management Association (NYMSMA), the only private non-postal professional service society for managers of mail systems in business, industry, government and institutions.
Its goal is to provide an open forum for dialogue that enables industry leaders to gain a deeper understanding of the need to replace outdated voice mail systems and the options available to them as they explore next-generation communications strategies.
ITS Mailing Systems offers one of the only alternatives to the Pitney-Bowes monopoly in the mail systems marketplace through its exclusive dealer license from Hasler, Inc.
Network operators now have at their disposal a foundation for building highly scalable, cost-effective mail systems that can leverage any preferred 3rd party applications or in-house systems.
With new articles on Mail Systems Management Companies and Self-Storage Facilities, among others, and many updated classifications, this reference provides the information needed for thorough on-site inspections.