The recent case of Ed Snowden has raised concerns over how vulnerable electronic communications are to surveillance. Google has made it clear that people who send or receive e-mail via Gmail should not expect their messages to remain private.
In a 39-page motion filed in June to have a class-action data-mining lawsuit dismissed, the Web giant cites Smith v. Maryland, a 1979 Supreme Court decision that upheld the collection of electronic communications without a warrant.
“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [e-mail provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.'”
Plaintiffs in the case contend that Google’s automated scanning of e-mail represents an illegal interception of their electronic communications without their consent. However, Google, which uses automated scanning to filter spam and deliver targeted advertising to its users, noted that plaintiffs consented to the practice in exchange for the e-mail services. Google goes on to say that courts have held that all e-mail users “necessarily give implied consent to the automated processing of their emails.”
Upon its introduction in 2004, Gmail was immediately criticised by privacy advocates and lawmakers alike as a horrific invasion into Internet users’ privacy. Critics contended that it should be illegal for a company to scan the text of its customers’ e-mail correspondence and display relevant advertising.
E-mail users’ privacy has taken on greater attention with the case of Snowden, who is wanted by the U.S. for exposing top-secret documents to the media about the National Security agency’s surveillance practices. Rather than possibly compromise its customers’ privacy, an encrypted e-mail service linked to Snowden shut down last week. Saying it could “see the writing on the wall,” another encrypted e-mail service shut down within hours.
We at 4pm use Gmail so we’re very interested to hear about this! Do you feel your e-mails are private and confidential?? Let us know what you think.