Recently, the IRS has made a broad claim that communications via e-mail are not directly protected under privacy laws. This would seem to be counter to many of the discussions Congress has had over the past few years about tightening up those same privacy concerns.
Whatever the outcome of these ongoing battles, one thing is certain: You really need to be careful what you send via e-mail. As much as we'd all like to believe that e-mails are private, one subpoena will say otherwise. And that's just the legal approach. That doesn't even factor in hackers, identity thieves, angry exes, co-workers, bosses and family members.
And though I know you will probably not heed my warnings, here are things you should never send via e-mail.
7. Credit Card and Bank Account Numbers
Identity thieves are always looking for ways to get into your bank and credit card accounts. Don't give them the chance by sending your information through an electronic communication. You have no control over what happens to that e-mail once it has been sent. Even if no one hacks it, someone could accidentally forward it or send a reply to another person with your information in it. It's just not smart.
As a general rule, it is okay to send password information relating to anything you consider less than critical. For example, it's probably not as scary having your password to your Facebook account intercepted as it is the password to your bank account. Fortunately, passwords are easy to change if necessary, but you don't want to have to do that because you sent it off in an e-mail to someone who uses it inappropriately. If you wouldn't want a particular password spread to the masses, don't send it.
5. Confessions or Reporting of Illegal Activity
It goes without saying that you shouldn't be doing anything illegal, but if you are, don't think that a privacy notice at the bottom of the correspondence of some attorney you just started consulting with will protect you. Bottom line: If you never want to admit to doing something, don't put it in writing...digital or otherwise.
4. Derogatory Comments About Co-Workers and Bosses (You Should Probably Avoid Family, Too)
If you can't say something nice...you know the rest. There have been numerous cases of people fired because they just couldn't keep their mouths shut online. E-mail is no different. This is especially true of work e-mail, though I'd recommend not calling your boss an asshat via Gmail either. And do you really want your aunt to have proof you think she's a boring old prune because you stuck it in an e-mail to your cousin? Probably not.
3. Threats of Any Kind
Think of e-mail like an airport. Do not threaten people. Do not threaten the government. Do not threaten anyone or anything. You don't want to be the one guy who threatened to kill a romantic rival only to have him turn up dead the next day. That kind of CSI crap happens. Besides, if you really want to tell someone off, you should do it to his face. If you wouldn't do it in person, don't do it online.
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2. Notes to Partners in Illicit Affairs
I have no statistics to back it up, but I'd be willing to bet the number one way people discover the infidelity of their partners these days is via e-mail, text or chat messages. I'm sure it gives you a thrill to exchange dirty notes with your mistress, but since the fact that you shouldn't be cheating isn't enough to keep you from acting like a jackass, let the threat of divorce and legal action be your guide.
1. Compromising Photos
This goes for photos of yourself and of anyone else. Haven't celebrity cell phone leaks taught you people anything?