Email Privacy: Does It Exist?
In recent years, sending an email has become the quickest and most efficient way to communicate. However, the confidentiality of these emails is diminishing, calling into question whether it is a good idea to use emails to discuss private information. Indeed, as a quick experiment by two friends in Texas demonstrated, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Google, scan emails to tailor advertisements for specific preferences. Do you use email to communicate with friends, family, or business associates? Do these emails contain personal or private information? Do you use email in the course of your work to conduct business? If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, then email privacy is probably important for you. As such, you should contact us to discuss how you can protect email privacy.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which is codified under 18 U.S.C. sections 2510 et seq., makes it a federal crime to intercept electronic communications (e.g., emails). Still, hackers have the capacity to find and read emails either while in transmission or when stored on a server. And, even under the ECPA, ISPs have the authority to sort through stored electronic communications. This includes sent messages, messages in the inbox, and emails stored on a server. Although, an ISP cannot easily turn over these messages, however, there are exceptions. Law enforcement agencies can secure warrants and issue subpoenas in order to gain access to emails. The House of Representatives has been reviewing a bill to rewrite the ECPA to require government agencies to obtain a warrant before they access the email of an individual under investigation. However, a different standard applies if you are a government employee. The California Supreme Court has announced that it will review whether government employees must disclose email communications regarding government matters that employees receive on their personal devices. In general, any email sent at work on company computers is readily accessible on the network. An employer can always access these emails.
Nonetheless, you can take steps to protect your personal email privacy. One option is to encrypt emails. This requires software that encrypts the message when sending and decrypts the message when it is received. Encryption can help prevent interception by hackers while an email travels through the web. However, the software can be sophisticated and impractical for daily email usage. Still, it is a good option for sending confidential information. Additionally, when sending private emails, remember public computers or networks do not yield high levels of protection. Therefore, it is a better idea to send such messages on a secure network. For example, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a method to create a secure network connection. Finally, a statement at the end of an email notifying the recipient about the confidential nature of the message may add another level of protection. In any case, it is important to remember that sending a regular email is not the most private way of communication.