Disclaimers

Here’s a poser, folks. When you get an email from anyone at Greenwich Council, it comes pre-loaded with the following disclaimer, no matter how inoffensive the content of the missive concerned:

This message is for the named person’s use only. It may contain confidential, proprietary or legally privileged information. No confidentiality or privilege is waived or lost by any mistransmission. If you receive this message in error, please immediately delete it and all copies of it from your system, destroy any hard copies of it and notify the sender. You must not, directly or indirectly, use, disclose, distribute, print, or copy any part of this message if you are not the intended recipient. Greenwich Council reserves the right to monitor all e-mail communications through its networks, in accordance with legislation.

Greenwich Council has scanned this e-mail for viruses but does not accept any responsibility once this e-mail has been transmitted. You should scan attachments (if any) for viruses.
Greenwich Council can be contacted by telephone on +44 (0) 20 8854 8888


Now, of course this isn’t just Greenwich Council. It’s increasingly tagged onto pretty much any form of electronic mail, mainly from companies who, if they had nothing to hide, might not consider it worth their while to do so.

So. My question is this. Since this message has been tacked onto the end of the email, and the agreement of the person to whom it is addressed to enter into such an arrangement has not been either sought or obtained, just how much clout does it have? After all, the terms of reading this email have not been agreed before the addressee has read them, so why should they take any notice of them? Why shouldn’t they just pass on the contents if they feel they are relevant?

I would be grateful for opinions – both professional and lay – on this increasingly invasive piece of legal add-on to the humble email format.


13 Comments to “Disclaimers”

  1. Pewter Tankard says:

    OK… Am not a lawyer but here goes…

    This message is for the named person's use only.
    Well that's an intent. If you've received this email in error then I assume that Greenwich Council have used your email address, making you the identified party. Fine, if they send a mail to fred.bloggs@somewhere.net and start the mail with "Dear Mrs Thribb" you might think that something was amiss but that's hardly your fault… After all, you had to read at least this far to get to the Mrs Thribb part and a purist might argue that this is "use" of the email. Sounds like this isn't going well for the Council.

    It may contain confidential, proprietary or legally privileged information.
    That's handy and dandy but, if the relevant parts of the mail don't point out which bits are confidential, proprietary and/or legally privileged, I am within my rights to assume that none of it is. I can't see how "may contain" has any legal weight.

    No confidentiality or privilege is waived or lost by any mistransmission.
    REALLY????? If there's been a mis-transmission and, say, the plans for Greenwich's independent nuclear deterrent get sent accidentally to CND are you serious that no confidentiality has been lost? OK… the privilege bit is probably OK but this seems like more gibberish.

    If you receive this message in error, please immediately delete it and all copies of it from your system, destroy any hard copies of it and notify the sender.
    A polite request… nothing more.

    You must not, directly or indirectly, use, disclose, distribute, print, or copy any part of this message if you are not the intended recipient.
    But if it was emailed to you then you can assume that you are the intended recipient (arguably even if it does start with "Dear Mrs Thribb" as you might assume that the erroneous bit is the title and not the email address). Also, if you think that you're not the correct recipient, you can't copy any of this mail back to Greenwich Council (including the title) to say that you think there's been a mistake, thus making the previous polite request impossible to fulfill.

    Greenwich Council reserves the right to monitor all e-mail communications through its networks, in accordance with legislation.
    Nothing wrong with this bit… sensible business conduct for, if no other reason, to scan for naughty content and/or viruses being sent.

    Greenwich Council has scanned this e-mail for viruses but does not accept any responsibility once this e-mail has been transmitted. You should scan attachments (if any) for viruses.
    Yep, this bit is fine too. "We've done our best but you should check it anyway.

    Greenwich Council can be contacted by telephone on +44 (0) 20 8854 8888
    Obviously only partly true. If you ring this number at 2am on a Saturday, I will be surprised if anyone picks up.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It's partly BS – as far as I understand, the main purpose of such a restriction is to reduce their liability should an email be defamatory/contain confidential information/prove incompetence – they can argue they asked specifically that an email should not be passed on, therefore they are not liable if it is.

  3. The Greenwich Phantom says:

    So what about people who forward stuff to me – any thoughts on their position re. this disclaimer, guys?

  4. NicksPhotos says:

    in my professional capacity running corporate email systems i've done my research into disclaimers and pretty much come to the conclusion that they are rather worthless. if they are added by individuals for specific emails then they could have a bit of weight in the courts, but mass disclaimers are diluted into worthlessness. both parties do not have agreement as to theconfidentiality unlike signed documents, etc.

  5. Pewter Tankard says:

    I have to agree with NicksPhoto; the disclaimer isn't a contract as the recipient hasn't agreed to it. As for any legal binding, the statements in the disclaimer aren't worth a damn by themselves; they would have to be linked to some other legal concept or statement. A particularly interesting avenue is that theoretically the text in that email could be claimed to be copyright of Greenwich Council (assuming that they didn't cut'n'paste text from anywhere else). Now the disclaimer doesn't state this but, as I understand it, a claim of copyright is recommended but not required (thus still leaving this avenue open). However, Greenwich Council, as a public body, really shouldn't try going down this route as most of these emails (personal details notwithstanding) should be accessible under the Freedom of Information Act, thus making claims of copyright rather bonkers.

    I read recently that at least one U.S. state has, rather unfortunately, claimed copyright on their state laws… presumably making it a possible defence for an alleged offender to claim that they could not have known about the law because it was not freely available.

  6. Capability Bowes says:

    "prove incompetence"

    Nah, nobody at Greenwich Council is incompetent, surely?

    *drum roll*

  7. Anonymous says:

    I am sure my own company does the same – probably almost to the same wording with the company name changed. you cant send an email out of the company without it because its added at the email server just before it transmits it – actually I have just checked and ours is a lot shorter:-

    This e-mail and any files transmitted with it are confidential and may be protected by legal privilege. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify the sender and delete the e-mail from your system.

    This e-mail has been scanned for malicious content but the internet is inherently insecure and **** cannot accept any liability for the integrity of this message or its attachments. No employee or agent of **** or any related company is authorised to conclude any binding agreement on behalf of **** or any related company by e-mail.

    All e-mails sent and received by **** are monitored to ensure compliance with the company's information security policy. Executable and script files are not permitted through the **** mail gateway. **** does not accept or send mails above 30 Mb in size.

    So ours is pretty simple in comparison, asking please to delete the email if you think we sent it error, telling the recipient that any agreement via email is unauthorised, and giving details of the type of files and attachments that are blocked by our firewall.
    I think a lot of these disclaimers are to protect the company in the event that an employee tries to damage the company by releasing sensitive information, due to the disclaimer the employee would then be liable if they wanted to proceed with dismissal or any other disciplinary action, I guess.
    Peter

  8. Brenda says:

    So now we have figured that the disclaimer is worthless… please do spill the beans.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The disclaimer is an attempt by pompous prats, nameless bureaucrats and cogs in meaningless conglomerates to make their boring emails look significant.

  10. Pewter Tankard says:

    That would be a fantastic footer for any corporate mail…

    This disclaimer is an attempt by pompous prats, nameless bureaucrats and cogs in meaningless conglomerates to make their boring emails look significant.

    …leaving aside the horrible mixed metaphor in the middle there ;-)

  11. Anonymous says:

    There are two things that annoy me related tangentially to this:

    Council emails are inevitably written in 8 point and are barely readable, but their disclaimer takes up another page when you print it out.

    Their letters and all reports are written in 12 point and may take up 4 or 5 pages (or 200) when one (or 50) would do.

    Or is that Lewisham…

  12. non-lawyer says:

    this is Ben Goldacre's funny dislcaimer, a response to all the corporate stuff.

    READ CAREFULLY. By reading this email, you agree, on behalf of your
    employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from
    any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service,
    shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure,
    non-compete and acceptable use policies ("BOGUS AGREEMENTS") that I have
    entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and
    assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and
    privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release
    me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer. If you
    are anything other than a friend or an institutional professional colleague and
    you are writing to me about Bad Science stuff then it is reasonable to assume
    that I might quote our discussion in my writing, usually anonymously.

  13. Julie70 says:

    I get also sometimes an email from someone with that kind of disclamer – I hate it – but sometime someone must have told them that telling “this is PRIVATE” makes them less vulnerable to… whatever.

    I do believe myself, that when we do express anything through the Web, it does become no more Really private, as much we wish sometimes.

    But those disclamers usually come from very PUBLIC sources and persons who adress the same to ALL they mail!