Saturday, January 24, 2009

E-Mail Privacy

Have you ever been angered when you've discovered that someone has forwarded a private e-mail that you went to them without your permission? I think most of us have experienced that feeling. The e-mail was intended for the eyes of only the person to whom it was sent. While I don't think that I've ever had someone forward something that was intensely private and personal, I've often experienced a violation of my privacy, particularly when I've replied to some library mailing lists. For example, a person asks a question and offers to summarize the responses. Instead of summarizing the responses, that person copies and pastes all e-mails received including personally identifiable information to the list. In my book, that is not summarizing responses. It is plagiarizing. Such a practice of distributing an e-mail without the sender's permission is frowned upon by the National Genealogical Society's Standards for Sharing Information With Others. I often forget that my library colleagues don't have such a standards, and I'm quite shocked and appalled when I see an entire e-mail copied and pasted into something that is supposed to be a summary. I've gotten to the point that I often will not respond to queries from fellow librarians. If I had wanted my name to be attached, I would have replied to the list itself. I wonder how often genealogists forget and do the same thing. I've heard of many cases where entire e-mails have been forwarded to others -- sometimes with disastrous consequences. I think the NGS standards are good advice to all persons -- not just genealogists. When a person's privacy has been compromised, they often become distrustful of sharing information with anyone else. They fear that the same thing will happen again. While it has been at least a couple of weeks since I've last had this happen to me on a library mailing list and my response was nothing that I would not have shared with the entire list had the person requesting not offered to summarize the response, I felt violated when I saw my entire e-mail copied and pasted for all to read when an offer to summarize responses had been made. Summary involves analysis of the information to group similar responses. Copying and pasting is not summarization. It is plagiarism. If we as educators expect our students to avoid it, shouldn't we be practicing that as well?

1 comment:

Thomas MacEntee said...

Lori - I've had this happen as well despite using Outlook and marking the email as Private or Confidential.

Lately I've added this info in small print at the bottom of my email signature:

The information contained in this communication is intended only for the use of the addressee and may be confidential, may be attorney-client privileged and may constitute inside information. Unauthorized use, disclosure or copying is strictly prohibited, and may be unlawful. If you have received this communication in error please contact the sender immediately at