Emails as evidence has been highlighted in the phone hacking scandal. I have long since held the belief that one of the reasons News of the World (NoW) in the early days were so keen to settle with Sienna Miller so quickly was because she demanded to see all emails relating to herself. However, it was never going to be long before all hell broke loose as others demanded to see such emails. Now these demands have been made and not surprisingly HCL Technologies who manage their email systems say they were asked to destroy more than 200,000 emails over the past year!
I utterly condemn the phone hacking and indeed may now stop reading any Murdoch publication. Nonetheless, there are lessons to be learnt about the use of email. Emails as evidence highlights three issues.
First, can the emails be destroyed? Under current UK law, in theory yes. But you can bet that someone somewhere will have kept a copy either printed off or saved to a file.
Second, it underscores the need to be so vigilant about what we put in an email. A conversation is far less likely to be kept. Careless emails sent in haste as busy business people struggle with email overload have been been very costly for many organisations. For example saying ‘yes’ when a client says an error has been made leaves little scope to negotiate. A comment which is seen defamatory may also be costly.
Third, it highlights the viral open nature of email. An email is as open as a postcard. You can bet your life someone somewhere has seen these NoW emails who should not have seen them. One way or another I’d wager a bet that, try as they may to have destroyed the email evidence, it will turn up at some point like the proverbial bad penny.
Last, but by no means least, there is talk of changing the UK laws relating to email retention and archives to be more like the US law. Emails will have to be kept and made available on demand. That too brings its own set of problems.
This all underscores the need to think before hitting send. If in doubt, talk first, then email later if needs be. Before you all comment, sanctioning phone hacking by conversation is no less an offence than sanctioning it by email.
Have you ever been subject to a legal case where email evidence is included?
Have been ruthless with my own email management techniques by emptying my inbox over the last few days. All newsletters over a week old (opened and unopened) have been deleted. Any of specific interest have been moved to folders. Spent time too reducing the email overload in my sent items. Those which have to be retained have been filed either in the client or project folder (eg those with contractual implications). Even the e-christmas cards are now in a folder. For more ideas on putting your inbox on a diet see my latest Silicon.Com column ‘Five Ways to Start an Email Weight Loss Campaign over Christmas‘.