[ISN] E-mail can have dire consequences

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Tue Jun 16 1998 - 13:27:02 PDT

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    Forwarded From: "Prosser, Mike" <Mike_Prosserat_private>
    E-mail can have dire consequences
    WASHINGTON -- Think about that nasty e-mail message you fired off in anger
    last week at the office, the one about your co-worker. Or your boss. Or
    your company's rival. 
    Who else might read it?
    Embraced for its convenience, e-mail has become for Internet users the
    fast and cheap communications medium of the '90s. But its nature lends
    itself to informal use, complete with misspellings, quirky abbreviations
    and casual -- even unflattering -- references to friends, co-workers or
    Trouble is, those casual messages sometimes get misdirected, or they can
    have healthy lifespans, hibernating for years on a computer backup in the
    company's basement. Sometimes, like old soldiers, old e-mail messages
    never die. 
    ''When you have a written memo, you rip it up and it's all gone,'' said
    Terry Loscalzo, a Philadelphia lawyer who specializes in Internet issues.
    ''Many employees don't understand that when you hit the Delete button it
    does not delete the e-mail for all eternity ... It can still be retrieved
    very easily.''
    Rosie McSweeney, a student at Arizona State University, thought she was
    sending a personal message to a friend. The private note was innocuous,
    but she hit a wrong key and inadvertently sent it to thousands of people
    who participate in an Internet discussion group she uses. 
    ''It was a horrible feeling,'' she said. ''It's like when you realize that
    you've just locked your keys in your car. The dangling key chain seems to
    taunt you.''
    Even savvy computer executives can be confronted by their own e-mail
    written years earlier, increasingly in lawsuits against companies, as the
    medium becomes more widely used. 
    A report earlier this year by Forrester Research Inc. said 15% of the U.S.
    adult population, or 30 million people, use e-mail. That number is
    expected to grow to 135 million by 2001. 
    ''There was sort of a gentlemen's rule that attorneys wouldn't look into
    it because nobody understood how it worked,'' said David Sorkin, associate
    director of the Chicago-based Center for Information Technology and
    Privacy Law. ''That's disappearing in this age of litigation. It's almost
    routine to investigate whether there are electronic documents.''
    When the Justice Department and 20 states filed antitrust lawsuits against
    Microsoft Corp., they used e-mail written by the company's top executives
    -- from printouts that Microsoft handed over under civil subpoena -- to
    bolster their claims that Microsoft was unfair in its fight against rival
    Netscape Communications Corp. 
    Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates described in a July 1996 e-mail message how
    he tried to persuade the chief executive officer at Intuit Inc. not to
    distribute Netscape's Internet browser with Intuit's popular personal
    finance software. 
    ''I was quite frank with him that if he had a favor we could do for him
    that would cost us something like ($1 million), to do that in return for
    switching browsers in the next few months, I would be open to doing
    that,'' Gates wrote. 
    Microsoft contends the e-mail messages, quoted liberally throughout the
    government antitrust lawsuits, were taken out of context. 
    Microsoft benefited from an earlier e-mail message uncovered during the
    government's investigation. When a judge appointed Harvard professor
    Lawrence Lessig as a ''special master'' to look into important technical
    issues over Microsoft's objections, the company uncovered an old e-mail in
    which Lessig told Netscape he had ''sold my soul'' by installing
    Microsoft's browser. 
    ''There is nothing more powerful in litigation than having a handwritten
    note that somebody stuck in a file or an e-mail,'' said Tyler Baker, an
    antitrust lawyer in Dallas. ''People are much more conversational and less
    guarded and more colorful. It comes across much more directly.''
    Unlike paper documents, it can be difficult to verify authorship of an
    e-mail, which carries no telltale pen-and-ink signature. Even if the mail
    account is protected by a password, it could have been sent by someone
    else with access. 
    ''It's a fairly simple procedure,'' said Loscalzo, the Internet lawyer. 
    ''Anybody with a fair amount of technical skill can create e-mail that
    purports to be written by someone they're not.''
    The Internet's discussion groups, including conversations on sex, religion
    and drug use, frequently contain posted messages that appear to be from
    President Clinton using his White House e-mail address. 
    A person faking an e-mail message can have more sinister motives, too. 
    After Oracle Corp. in 1992 fired employee Adelyn Lee, the one-time
    girlfriend of Oracle's billionaire chairman, Larry Ellison, Ellison
    received a message purportedly from one of his vice presidents saying: 
    ''I have terminated Adelyn per your request.''
    Ellison fired back: ''Are you out of your mind! I did not request that you
    terminate Adelyn ... I did not want to get involved in the decision for
    obvious reasons.''
    Lee sued over her firing and settled with Oracle in 1993 for $100,000. 
    But she was sentenced in 1994 to one year in prison and ordered to repay
    the money after prosecutors showed that she had sent the incriminating
    e-mail to Ellison, forging the name of the Oracle vice president from his
    own account. 
    By The Associated Press
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