July 11, 2012

Sorry, Mr. Diamond, But Emails Are Forever

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Barclays has been in the middle of an ever churning scandal as of late as U.K. and U.S. regulators have fined the banking institution £290 million for attempting to fix their lending rates. As a result, Barclay´s Chief Executive, Bob Diamond, has not only stepped down from his post, he´s also kindly offered to give up a £20 million bonus and been questioned by the Treasury Select Committee. It was at that questioning that Mr. Diamond learned that emails are forever, as exchanges between he and other Barclay executives from 2008 were dug up from the digital archives and used as evidence against him.

Though Mr. Diamond refused to having any knowledge of this rate-fixing, his email correspondence tells another story.

Now, a report from Reuters today explains just how long-lasting emails can be, and how even one determined person can dig up any particularly damning message and turn the tide in a scandal.

The issue with email, according to John Bassett, a senior fellow at London's Royal United Services Institute, is that we don´t expect it to stick to us for years and years.

"E-mail, Twitter, texting and the rest all intuitively feel like short fuse ephemeral communications - a quick word in passing, if you will," says Basset.

"Yet as soon as we push the send button, these communications take on an enduring digital permanence that means that in effect they never quite go away."

While anything written down on paper with pen can be disposed of easily enough, those messages and notes written down on bits and bytes aren´t so easily “taken care of.”

As technology progresses, so too does the threat that anything viewed on a screen can once again be called up, thanks to increasingly advanced algorithms and search methods. As pointed up in the Reuters article, sometimes these leaks can be distributed or dumped on the internet for all to see, circa Wikileaks. In Mr. Diamond's situation, however, his emails weren´t “leached”, so much as they were “requested.”

National governments and law enforcement agencies can request these electronic communications to be used in a court of law. Here, these emails can either be a convicting piece of evidence, sealing the fate of the defendant, or unfortunately taken out of context, changing the entire scope of the investigation.

As the world becomes ever-connected–checking into social networking sites, Direct messages, et al.– professionals are taking extreme caution in the way they communicate with one another. Although telephone calls may be safer than email, there is still the chance that the call could be monitored or recorded. In addition, mobile phone calls create a log of who called whom and when, further adding to the ever-expanding digital “paper” trail. Even electronically signing a visitor into your office complex can one day be found and traced. In the case of government buildings, this kind of information is even publicly available via the Freedom of Information Act.

“We work with a daily awareness that email archives are legally recoverable ,” says Kevin Craig, director of London-based Political Lobbying and Media Relations (PLMR).

“We tell clients that e-mails are incredibly vulnerable“¦ If your communication is not legally privileged (such as between a lawyer and client), think very carefully about writing it down.”

In the end, it seems the best approach to take towards email is, if you don´t want it to be seen by a judge or used against you in a court of law, best not to type it out.