Confidentiality statements at the bottom of work emails

You know, “the info provided in this document is confidential and intended for the party…blah blah blah…if you have received this in error…blah blah blah…”

Are they necessary? Do they truly offer some form of protection? Against what?

They seem, to me, like ridiculous paranoia approaching the level of urban legendhood (“yeah, my neighbor’s aunt got fired because she didn’t instruct the receiver of her email to destroy it without reading it if the message was not received by the intended recipient”)

Any thoughts?

I think the question is whether they would stand up in court: “Your honor, I never read the bottom of that email so how could I have known that I shouldn’t pass this information to their competitor?”.

I think it provides some level of protection for the sender, but exactly how much is unclear. Any lawyers in the house?

My company requires that I have that statement on my emails so our legal department must think they are worth something.

That or they decided that, even if unenforceable, they can’t hurt.

The idea is that if that warning is at the bottom of each and every email, someone can’t say “But they never said I couldn’t use, copy or disclose the information in that email!”

Particularly once it’s been forwarded fifteen times and you’ve had to scroll past it every time to see what the email’s about.

But how can you prove that I read it? And if I didn’t read it does it matter that it’s there?

My last company did as well. I never added it. Nobody said anything about it in the 5 years I worked there.

I’m thinking if the information in the email is indeed confidential (say a trade secret) or privileged (legal communication between attorney/client) then the information is confidential/privileged. The message at the bottom cannot make something that is not confidential/privileged into something that is. So it that sense, I don’t think they are necessary.

However, they can be helpful. They are informative (they should always point out the law) and possibly they are preventive (if you actually read it, you might not pass the email along regardless if it’s actually confidential/privileged or not). The problem is laziness, they are automatically added to every email. If the sender only attached it to confidential/privileged emails, they’d be more effective. But then people would have to think and make a judgment call re: email content, and company lawyers can’t have employees doing that.

This reply is intended for my sisters, cousins, and aunts only. If you are not my sister, cousin, or aunt, you are not authorized to read this reply. You are forbidden from using it in any capacity. Please delete it from your system.

I always liked getting one of those notes at the bottom of an email that also said ‘please forward this to all…’ – always gave me a chuckle.

They are not enforceable, since the recipient never specifically agreed to the terms. They have as much legal force as putting a disclaimer saying “By receiving this e-mail, you must pay the sender $1000.”

They are, however, enforceable against employees of the company sending and receiving e-mail. They usually are required to follow some sort of computer use policy; and ignoring the disclaimer to forward the message to an outside person, while not illegal, could be grounds for termination. Most likely, this would happen if you forward either confidential information or information that is embarrassing to the company.

So how about “by opening this shrink-wrap package, you agree to the terms of the license given on our website”?

Exactly. Just like the notice on the back of a theme park ticket which says, “WARNING!!! If you get killed on one of our rides, it’s not our fault.”

If you sign a legal document but don’t read it first, it’s still binding. Same thing.

Not necessarily. My company has signed non-disclosure agreements with many other companies. If I receive communication so marked from someone at one of those companies and then disclose it, depending on its contents, they may have cause for civil action, and I’m almost certainly in a lot of trouble with my boss.

In that case, the verbiage serves as notice that the sender considers this to be among those things covered by the NDA. Which is then humorously belied when it comes as an automatic attachment to a note saying in its entirety, “Wanna get lunch today?”

Right, but in that case it’s the NDA that’s enforceable, not the text in the email.

We do not use that text as a policy in our office, but one ex-employee insisted on adding it to all her communication. There was absolutely nothing backing it, so it wound up being pretty funny and sometimes exasperating.

IANAL, but I would think that if this message went on every email, including ones that say “let’s meet for lunch” it would destroy its value for emails with actual confidential information. Saying a person shouldn’t have forwarded the information based on the statement would he hard to argue for if it can be shown that joke lists had the same warning.
I’ve worked for fairly paranoid companies, none of them which have done this. But as for confidentiality statements on documents, they have several levels, and you are not supposed to use one that is too high.
Likewise, I’ve seen slides at conferences where the speaker has forgotten to remove the confidentiality statement from the presentation, which is being made in public with no NDA.

My favorite is that at my company, any email that’s supposed to be for internal recipients only has to include “This message is intended as [company] internal and can not be shared with anyone outside the company.”

I find it hilarious when it’s on emails from the upper echelons about stuff like the 2012 Holiday Schedule or the company’s “Summer Friday” program … in other words, I can’t tell my wife what holidays I’ll have off without violating the rules. Oh nos!

Alternatively, it’s the NDA that makes the text in the email enforceable, Either case, some prior agreement applies.