Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Fine Print

    NOTICE: This email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.

Ah, yes. What balderdash. I observe that an increasing number of e-mail messages—including those that come from individuals, not institutions—carry some variant of the above twaddle.  I rather suspect that such disclaimers carry no weight whatsoever, in a legal sense. If they do, then shame on us, since the little paragraph above has no meaning whatsoever. Consider:

The message is “…for the sole use of the intended recipient(s)”….  And how, pray, is one to know who the Intended Recipient(s) is or are? The above sample is one that I copied from a message received this past week (with the exciting subject line “CONFIDENTIAL”). It was sent from an individual to a short list of individuals that, obviously, included me. My name, my Mac address. May I not safely conclude from that that I am an Intended Recipient? I mean, my address and everything!

Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?

But soft! “Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited.” Clearly this means that if I am not an Intended Recipient I may not “review” (i.e., read) the message, yes? How, then, am I to determine that I am not an Intended Recipient? The fact that it’s addressed to me would seem to indicate so. But how can I be certain without a “review” of the item in question?

So, throwing all caution to the wind, I plunge into the body of the message. Which begins with the salutation “Brethren.”


I have encountered this before. Somewhere in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, my e-mail address has become attached to an Elder who shares a name with me. In bygone times I would respond to such misaddressed missives (I imagine I’ve written about that in the past, but I’ve no time to go through the archives at the moment), but I discovered that people not only could not be bothered to acknowledge their error, they could not be bothered to correct it. I know I have written about the woman who habitually gives people my address instead of hers (she seems to have left out a letter), and how I one replied to all of the misdirected messages from her friends, encouraging them to update their address books—only to receive no reply…except for more misaddressed notes!  (Oddly the only exception to this rudeness/stupidity has come from businesses to which the woman in question has sloppily given the wrong address.)

Along those lines, I responded, in the early days, to e-mail from various LDS persons, politely encouraging them to correct their address books. No reply, ever. So I quit replying. Not my fault if their message fails to reach one of their Intended Recipient(s).

And speaking of: So now I am into the “Brethren” message (which contains, following a brief greeting, the peculiar line, “I think that I have spoken live with each of you.” Spoken live. Still deciphering that one), and must conclude that I am not one of the Intended Recipient(s). For one thing, the sender has not Spoken Live to me, nor Spoken Unlive to me, nor Spoken Any Other Way to me. For another, he says, “I continue to look to raise a lot of money,” which immediately tells me he isn’t talking to me—although he goes on to say that this lot of money must not come from “members of the Church,” which is intriguing and suspicious enough that I was momentarily inclined to reply. (“You know, I speak live to a lot of people, so refresh my memory about what we spoke live about before…”)

So now I am in clear violation of the disclaimer, for I would seem not to be an Intended Recipient, and yet I have “reviewed” the message, unauthorizedly, which the disclaimer says I can’t do. Or maybe that was on the mattress tag. I’m losing track.

What am I to do? Clearly I can’t unread what I have already read. I know this bloke is eager to raise “a lot of money” from “those who share the passion and who are NOT members of the Church”; I am unlikely to forget that any time soon. The disclaimer says I am to report my transgression to the sender. But I’m pretty sure that violates my Fifth Amendment rights, so I’m not going there. Also, I’m tired of trying to do the right thing by people who are too fucking rude to acknowledge the effort or change their behavior, so that’s out.

The instructions go on to say that I must now “destroy all copies of the original message.” Exactly how I am supposed to do that? For one thing, the “original message” by definition resides with the sender. Am I to break into his house and destroy his computer? Maybe the “original” isn’t even on his computer—maybe it’s on a server somewhere. Am I to hack into the system and determine the location of the host, then travel to wherever it may be and destroy its server farm? And even then I am left with the quandary inherent in the command to “destroy all copies of the original message.” In my world, there can be only one “original”—everything else, by definition, is a copy, not an original. So which am I to destroy? The original? Or copies of the original? If the latter, we have a big problem, since there are apt to be dozens, if not more, floating around in cyberspace. Maybe they’re hanging around various servers that handled the message en route to its Intended Recipient(s).  Finding and destroying all traces could take decades.

And what of those Intended Recipient(s)? They have copies! I presume I must break into their homes and offices and destroy their machines as well! And their ISPs’ servers!

And what about “disclosure,” which the disclaimer also prohibits? How am I to know whether they disclosed the e-mail’s contents? How am I to know whether any such disclosure was “authorized”? And if they did disclose, what is the penalty? And who is to undertake it? The disclaimer implies that it is my responsibility…but I’m not supposed to have read the message in the first place!

Which obviously means…I shouldn’t have read the disclaimer either.

No comments: