TerminalDigit

Good to the last bit.

1 January 2007

Medicine, Miscellaneous, Technology

I Disclaim This Post

At some point before I got here, someone at my institution decided that all e-mails from faculty and staff should have this ludicrous disclaimer appended:

IMPORTANT WARNING: This email (and any attachments) is only intended for the use of the person or entity to which it is addressed, and may contain information that is privileged and confidential. You, the recipient, are obligated to maintain it in a safe, secure and confidential manner. Unauthorized redisclosure or failure to maintain confidentiality may subject you to federal and state penalties. If you are not the intended recipient, please immediately notify us by return email, and delete this message from your computer.

I have no idea why they do this. First of all, this statement carries absolutely no force of law, since it’s a one-way agreement. They’re demanding something (confidentiality) of me that I never agreed to provide. That would be like me walking up to someone on the street and saying, “If you can hear my voice, you owe me fifty dollars, and you’re subject to prosecution if you don’t pay.” Anyway, the many reasons why disclaimers like this are worthless and possibly detrimental to those utilizing them has been pretty well explained by Jeff Goldberg, so I’m going to refer you there and just poke fun at my own institution here:

IMPORTANT WARNING:

I love seeing this at the end of all the e-mails I get. Really gets my attention. I only wish it were red and bold. Seriously, unless this e-mail is going to self-destruct and leave a smoking crater where my computer is currently sitting, lose the caps lock. I’m able to comprehend the meaning of the word “important” without having it illustrated through your oh-so-clever use of the shift key.

This email (and any attachments) is only intended for the use of the person or entity to which it is addressed, and may contain information that is privileged and confidential.

Grammar alert: what’s with the parentheses? They screw up the reading of the sentence. “This email and any attachments are . . . ” is a perfectly valid start to this sentence. Instead, someone chose to create an unnecessary parenthetical which breaks the compound subject and necessitates the use of “is” instead of “are” to comply with the number of the new simple subject, “email.” However, upon reading the sentence aloud, it isn’t clear that there’s a parenthetical at all, and the number of the verb seems to disagree with that of the subject.

You, the recipient, are obligated to maintain it in a safe, secure and confidential manner.

The recipient is me? Wow, thanks for letting me know. Despite the fact that the message arrived in my inbox, I thought that I might have been the sender or the relayer or something, but you’ve cleared that all up with your beautifully-placed appositive. Unfortunately, I’m going to keep your e-mail on my computer, and I can’t guarantee that it will be safe and secure there. I mean I can lock things down to the best of my ability, but I’m not naive enough to believe that I’m immune to a really determined hacker or even to a thug who breaks my window and walks out with my computer. Maybe I should leave my e-mails on the UCLA servers because I’m sure their network admins are much better at preventing intrusion than I could ever be. Oh wait.

Unauthorized redisclosure or failure to maintain confidentiality may subject you to federal and state penalties.

Hahaha. Well I just disclosed the disclaimer itself without any authorization. Get all the lawyers you want and bring it. Oh, by the way—IMPORTANT WARNING: By reading this blog, you agree not to bring any legal action against me, ever, for any reason.

If you are not the intended recipient, please immediately notify us by return email, and delete this message from your computer.

To comply with the previous part of this lousy notice, if I were to notify you by e-mail reply, I’d have to make it secure by encrypting and signing it, and there’s a 99.9% change you have absolutely no idea what to do when you receive a GPG-encrypted e-mail. You’d probably delete it because it looks like gobbledygook. I can make these sorts of assumptions because you’re transmitting confidential and privileged information to me in unencrypted form in the first place.

Maybe the best thing for me to do is create my own disclaimer. Something along the lines of John Sullivan’s newsgroup sig seems appropriate:

Disclaimer: By sending an email to ANY of my addresses you are agreeing that:

  1. I am by definition, “the intended recipient”
  2. All information in the email is mine to do with as I see fit and make such financial profit, political mileage, or good joke as it lends itself to. In particular, I may quote it on usenet.
  3. I may take the contents as representing the views of your company.
  4. This overrides any disclaimer or statement of confidentiality that may be included on your message.

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