Email [curse | blessing], part four

The fourth installment in an occasional series where I think out loud about using email effectively. First installment.

Anarticle in today’s New York Times unequivocally answers the question that is the title of this post:– email is a curse. A front-page article by Brad Stone titled “Tell-All PCs and Phones Transforming Divorce: In the Digital Age, It’s Growing Hard to Hide Dirty Secrets” tells all about how email is changing divorce proceedings.

One man, suspecting his wife of cheating, installed a piece of software on her computer that took a screenshot of whatever was on her monitor every 15 seconds, and sent it back to him via email. She thought no one was watching; he discovered that she was having an affair, and that she and her lover were seeking sex from strangers via the Internet. Another woman checked her doctor husband’s email account — he had shared his password with her — and discovered that he was having an affair with a much younger medical resident, and that he bought a three million dollar condo so he could tryst in style. By the way, it turns out both these strategies for gaining access to email are perfectly legal.

The Times reporter quotes divorce lawyer David Levy as saying, “I do not like to put things on e-mail…. There’s no way it’s private. Nothing is fully protected once you hit the send button.” Actually, nothing is private once you type it into your computer. The Times reporter also quotes a private investigator, James Mulvaney, as saying, “Every keystroke on your computer is there, forever and ever.” Mulvaney claims that the only way you can erase data from your hard drive is to “throw your computer into the air and play skeet with it.” [Commercially available neodymium-boron-iron magnet can erase floppy disks and the magnetic stripes from credit cards; one would imagine that a strong neodymium magnet could erase the contents of a hard drive if placed directly against the disk; but I digress.]

This brings us back to the single most important rule for email: Do not write anything in an email message unless you would feel comfortable seeing it on the front page of the local newspaper. Or in court, for that matter.

1 thought on “Email [curse | blessing], part four

  1. Abs

    Way, way back in college, when I was a freshman – we’re talking 1986 here, and email
    had just become semi-mainstream – we were given an orientation by the computer lab
    people who set up our email accounts. Most important point of the orientation:
    “email is like a postcard. Write it as if you were mailing a postcard, and anyone could
    read it.”

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