Abstract - The Information Society 11(3)

Ethics and the privacy of electronic mail

Erini Doss and Michael C. Loui

After reviewing legal and philosophical definitions of privacy and their justifications, it is considered whether electronic mail (e-mail) should be private. In itself, e-mail is inexpensive, quick, and convenient. In contrast with the telephone, the recipient of an e-mail message need not be available when the sender initiates the message. Also, most e-mail users assume that their messages are confidential, that the contents of their messages are read only by the intended recipients. Currently, most universities treat e-mail as private, and most corporations do not. Federal and state laws protect the privacy of e-mail only in public networks. In particular, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act does not protect e-mail in private networks. It is concluded that e-mail should be private everywhere, for ethical reasons.

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