In this fast-paced era of technology, email is used by the majority of society, including municipalities and authorities, because it enables people to communicate quickly and to transfer information more efficiently than regular postal mail. For municipalities and authorities, however, email creates a long-lasting record that may be viewed by others in a number of situations and thus should be used with caution.
The most pertinent situation which email could be viewed by others is if the municipality or authority finds itself a party to litigation. During litigation, emails containing information relative to the litigation may be requested by the opposing party through discovery requests. Even with an effective written policy, no strategy can encapsulate every potential scenario. Therefore, in order to avoid any embarrassing circumstances or additional problems for the municipality and authority (as well as for the individuals comprising either), the person sending the email should consider the following:
1. Regarding the sensitivity of the matter, should the issue be put into print where it will remain?
2. Does the email contain any possible defamation, such as comments on the conduct, character, performance or other disparaging attributes about another. Comments and opinions about someone not copied on the email should be avoided. One idea: would the person sending the email want the subject to read the remarks?
3. Does the email contain any admission of liability relative to the respective municipality or authority?
4. Does the email contain any confidential information that should not be shared?
5. How accurate is the information?
6. A good practice is to email only necessary information and exclude anything irrelevant.
7. Also, if the content would not be written on letterhead, then it should not be written in an email.
With these understandings put into practice, any negativity that could have been contained in emails can be minimized or even possibly eliminated.
Also, to guard against emails that may accidentally or mistakenly be sent to the wrong recipient, municipalities and authorities should include a confidentiality and privilege notice at the end of all email communications. Such a notice would identify the information contained in the email as being privileged, confidential and protected from disclosure. The notice would warn the receiver of the email, should he/she not be the intended recipient, any dissemination, distribution or copying of the email is strictly prohibited. In addition, the unintended recipient would be directed to contact the person who sent the email to notify him/her they are not meant to receive such email and then to delete the email from his/her computer.