Burriss: All mail should be private

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When you send letters or packages via the postal service do you expect the letter carriers to open them up to have a peek just because they want to?

Or let’s phrase it another way: Would you mind if the letter carriers opened your mail just because they want to?
My guess is that most people expect their mail to be private.

In fact, it’s a federal crime for someone other than the intended recipient to open your mail.

So how is your e-mail different?

You prepare your message and dispatch it to a service provider who is supposed to send it on. Maybe to another service provider who delivers the mail for you, or maybe directly to the recipient.

And just like the postal service, there are federal laws that make it a crime for someone other than the government to intercept your e-mail.

It turns out, though, that Google has said users have no expectation of privacy for e-mail sent to any of its 425 million subscribers.

The comments came in response to a lawsuit claiming the service violates wiretapping laws by opening e-mails sent to subscribers in order to target ads to Gmail users.

Notice we’re not talking about national security, which you may have noticed has been in the news a lot lately.

We’re talking about commercial use of private information.

For years most of us have known our employers can read our e-mail.
And for years most of us have suspected the government has had the ability to read our e-mail.
But I don’t think we expected any of them to try to make money from our private thoughts and ideas.

Critics are calling the Google revelation “a stunning admission.”
But here’s another wrinkle. I wonder if Google, as a third party in the e-mail chain, is sharing the information it’s gathering with anyone else, and if the company will tell us who it is and what it’s being used for.
Probably not.

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Larry Burriss
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