Email privacy: a rocky past, an unknown future

Email privacy: a rocky past, an unknown future

With the rise of the internet, several new phrases and words have entered our daily lives. Now, even those who rarely use the internet know about email. Email is used for an array of different purposes, including personal communication, business dealings, marketing campaigns, and more.

According to the guide A Story of Modern Electronic Communications, The success of e-mail is down to its relative ease of use. E-mail has become almost an instinctive tool. That simple, click to create and click to send action has resulted in massive uptake of e-mail communications and the instant reaction that it can elicit has made it an irresistible way of communicating.

One concept that various governments of the world have failed to secure for their citizens, however, is email privacy. Individual companies can search personal email accounts with little accountability. Moreover, various governments have systems in place that allow their security agencies to read personal emails, removing any sort of citizen rights about privacy in the process.

Hilary Clinton and the mainstream email scandal

The scandal surrounding Hilary Clinton’s email represented the first time that many people thought about the concept of email privacy and security in any scale.

The candidate for the US 2016 elections used her own email server for both private and work communications instead of relying on a government account for the latter. This prompted criminal investigations, a public outrage, and several experts and officials chiming in with their own opinions.

As it often happened during the elections, the public was divided on the matter. Hilary Clinton for her part continuously maintained that the only reason why she used a single email address was “convenience”.

Spying on private citizens

After Edward Snowden revealed the extend of the National Security Agency’s spying on the American public, it became apparent that the US government, alongside other countries, were infringing on the privacy rights of their citizens.

During the initial controversy, several tech companies were implicated. Companies like Google and Microsoft were accused of sharing information about their users at the request of the US government, for example.

Since then, several companies have updated their policies to help users understand that complying with warrants from the government is mandatory. Moreover, in most cases, the companies cannot directly inform users about such actions as it would be against the law.

Scandals on email privacy, however, keep on coming. A few months ago, Yahoo was implicated in a wide-reaching scandal. Allegedly, the company had either created a software that scanned incoming email for certain keywords and phrases or had allowed a federal agency to install a rootkit for the same purpose.

The future of email privacy

Under President Donald Trump, the future of email privacy seems largely unclear. Right now, one of the biggest issues is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The act, which was passed in 1986, before the World Wide Web even existed, considers electronic communications more than 180 days old as abandoned and thus gives free reign to governmental agencies to access them.

A reform of the act has been proposed several times. Whether that will happen or not, however, remains unclear. Furthermore, there are now talks about giving ISPs greater control over user data, even allowing them to sell private information such as browsing habits.

All of this will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the concept of email privacy as we move forward. The very concept of privacy will have to be redefined in the coming years of the digital age and email will play a pivotal role in the process.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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