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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 ?
Founded by two of the world's leading content providers in AEG and Cirque du Soleil, Outbox AXS now adds Gilbert to its ownership ranks resulting in a combined entity supported by the resources and global strength of the more than 120 venues owned or controlled by AEG as well as content produced by AEG Live, the world's second largest live entertainment promoter, and Cirque du Soleil, the most important producer of live entertainment in Las Vegas with 8 original productions in addition to extensive international touring operations.
You can also follow Outbox Systems on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Google +.
Outbox will then package it and deliver it back to your mailbox within two days.
He has the skill to outbox the part-time Thames waterman and is also the harder puncher, with nine wins out of 16 coming the quick way, compared with just two out of nine for 23-year-old Steeds.
Yet the Scot was reportedly incensed by Kebede's attitude at a pre-fight press conference, where the Stockholm-based Ethiopian predicted he would outbox the champion with ease.
De La Hoya (36-3, with 29 knockouts) did as he suggested he would do early in the fight: jab, move, outbox his rival and win rounds as opposed to seeking a knockout as he did in the first fight.
Leveraging Silicon Graphics' core strengths in digital media and its leadership in Web technology solutions, MindShare OutBox will transform the way people share information within organizations.
5 email messages listed in the inbox and outbox now show if they have already been saved to a contact or project history.
Hundreds of bands entered the competition to support The Zutons in Inverness on June 6, and the Razz can exclusively reveal that those shortlisted are Echofela (Falkirk), Page 6 (Dundee), AJP Taylor (Fortrose), Outbox (Aberdeen) and The Act (Nairn).
Through Mi4e's MMS Portal, users can experience the power of multimedia messaging with online access to their inbox, outbox, and online content for the first time anywhere in the world.
PS I suppose you also checked his outbox to make sure he didn't reply?
I have the hand speed, the ability and the fitness to outbox them all.