Your Electronic Message is NOT EVER private

[This post was prompted by the news that an experienced lawyer texted disparaging comments about his famous client. That text made the news and got him fired.]

Electronic messages cannot be destroyed by the sender once they reach their destination. The message is now under the control of the recipient. They can save it, forward it, take a picture of it, or print it. Anyone they send it too can do the same. The problem expands exponentially as each person sends the message to others. Electronic mailing lists accelerate publication of messages. Email messages sent to an electronic mailing list are saved both by mailing list server and potentially by any or all members of the mailing list. By design, a mailing list gets the message out to a large number of people quickly. The concept behind twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms is based on mass publication made easy and there is always a way to capture the message. It is simply not possible to retract an electronic message or force a delete once sent. When you send or post or tweet, the message is gone. It’s out of your hands. You have published and how far it goes depends on each and every recipient of the message for as long as the message is kept by anyone.

For lawyers, this presents both a problem and an opportunity. If someone finds the system where the message still exists, the client may be screwed or saved depending on what that message says or who it was sent to. For lawyers as publishers, it boggles the mind why any of them post, email, or tweet something damaging about their client or their case. It doesn’t matter if they intended that message to only reach a “safe” recipient. Once sent, it’s out of their control and can be in many hands before they even realize what has happened. What’s more, if even one person kept a copy, it can resurface and explode in the same way at any time. Sometimes even the location from where the message was sent can be damaging. People can be located geographically by looking at the metadata associated with the messages sent by them or someone with them.