Is there a legal risk involved in sending communications via the Internet?
Absolutely there is, particularly for companies and employers. This is because very few people think twice before they hit the send button and send their email or message winging off into the void that is the Internet. After all, electronic communications are but a temporary, fleeting few seconds of time and once they’ve been deleted, that’s the end of them. They’re untraceable and pretty harmless….
Or are they?
Think about this. Every time you send an email, it wends its way through several different computer systems before it finally reaches its destination. Leaving a traceable trail. So yes, that email you sent from your work computer last week to your friend who works in another company, complaining about your boss or letting slip confidential information, IS traceable. Even if you both subsequently deleted it immediately.
Furthermore, deleting it may have been a silly thing to do because should there ever be an occasion for the company to bring in Computer and Technology Forensics experts, one of the first things they look for are deleted documents and communications like emails. The software they use to scan electronic equipment like computers, phones and the like, flags these deleted items and in many cases, the original documents can be, and will be, restored or reconstructed. Destroying evidence is a crime and could well land you in jail.
The evidence contained in emails and other forms of electronic communications is now used in a wide range of prosecutions. Insurance companies for instance who suspect that someone claiming compensation for an injury is not being strictly up front with them. Welfare recipients who are suspected of routing the system by claiming payments they’re not entitled to. Confidential company information that could be used for insider trading. Bullying or discriminatory communications that could be classed as harassment or discrimination. Comments about a crime that could only have been made by someone present when it was committed. And so on.
Here’s a real life instance where this type of evidence was admissible in court. Think back to the trial of those Los Angeles police who ‘allegedly’ beat Rodney King back in 1991. During the trial, a tiny piece of evidence was presented to the court – a computer message written by one of the officers involved where he said “…. I haven’t beaten anyone that bad in a long time.” Bingo! A clear-cut admission of guilt right there and the officer who wrote it probably had absolutely no idea at the time that he was incriminating himself, that his message would come to light or that it could be used in court as evidence against him.
Review Your Company IT Policy
If you are an employer then it is a good idea to review your company policies to ensure that you have subjects like emails and other electronic messages that are made using company equipment well covered by an IT policy and that your employees clearly understand what is expected of them in this regard. If you run induction or similar introductory training for new team members, this is a great opportunity to cover these topics right at the start so they’re left in no doubt about company policy.
Of course if your communications are harmless then you’ve likely got nothing to worry about. Then again, what may be a seemingly innocent comment at the time could well become a major issue down the track. So stop before you hit the send button and ask yourself – would I say this in person, in public and would I like it to become public knowledge. If the answer is ‘not really’ then perhaps you need to rethink saying it electronically as well.
This article is provided as a courtesy to our readers and followers interested in law related topics. Nothing on this site should be construed as legal advice, and if you’ve been arrested for a DUI we recommend consulting with a DUI Lawyer in Los Angeles, not the internet!
Originally posted 2016-06-06 12:39:49.