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Are Your E-mail Messages Private?

Your electronic communication may not be as private as you think, a local attorney warned Tuesday. Though it’s illegal for most people to read your e-mail without consent, your boss may be able to do so in certain situations.

The messages you compose, send, receive, and store on your employee e-mail address may be the property of your employer, the attorney said. The policy at some companies may even be interpreted to include personal e-mail – such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo! – transmitted on a work computer.

“If you are trying to protect certain information, it might not be protected,” attorney Michael Macomber of Tully Rinckey Law inAlbany said. “Err on the side of caution. Don’t be using your e-mail at work. Don’t be accessing that because… you run the risk that it could end up out there.”

Federal law empowers the government to obtain your e-mail in many situations.

While unread messages are protected, authorities may legally obtain read messages with a court order, subpoena, or warrant. Probable cause may not be necessary depending on how long the messages have been stored.

The marital infidelity scandal surrounding former CIA Director David Petraeus is raising questions about the issue of cyber security. Authorities are reviewing more than 20,000 e-mail messages exchanged by the parties involved.


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