Email disclaimer guideline

Guideline

Final | September 2019 | v2.0.0 | OFFICIAL - Public | QGCIO

Introduction

Purpose

A Queensland Government Enterprise Architecture (QGEA) guideline provides information for departments on the recommended practices for a given topic area. Guidelines are generally for information only and departments are not required to comply. They are intended to help departments understand the appropriate approach to addressing a particular issue or doing a particular task.

Agencies may refer to this guideline when drafting or updating their email disclaimers and/or when considering whether additional clauses should be adopted as part of a department-specific email disclaimer.

This guideline provides a set of disclaimer clauses for possible inclusion in Queensland Government department emails.

Audience

This document is primarily intended for:

  • digital and ICT policy officers
  • information management specialists
  • legal officers
  • those who administer email and calendaring technologies.

Background

Email disclaimers are commonly used by private and public organisations.

Email disclaimers inform recipients of corporate legal information and policies. For all practical purposes, email disclaimers are used to reduce liability and caution recipients about misusing the information contained within the message. Email disclaimers can be tacked onto the bottom of all outgoing messages automatically when sent through a particular server (R. Morimoto, Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 unleashed, Sams Publishing, 2004, p. 309).

Example email clauses are available within section 3 of this document (page 5).

An effective email disclaimer can:

  • alert recipients to issues that they should be aware of
  • assist a department in resisting legal claims
  • provide a low cost method of mitigating the risks associated with the use of email.

Despite these benefits, the legal value of email disclaimers is unclear. Generally, courts are likely to place a higher importance on the substance of an email and surrounding circumstances in order to determine the rights of parties to a dispute, and usually ‘read down’ disclaimers to the detriment of the party seeking to rely on them.

An email disclaimer is no substitute for care being taken to present the content of an email in a way that is suitable for the circumstances. For example, it is preferable to include clear statements within the email message that the contents of the email are confidential or subject to a claim of legal professional privilege, or are not intended to legally bind the department, rather than relying on a disclaimer stating that the email may/may not have these characteristics.

Nevertheless, the use of email disclaimers is generally widely regarded as best practice in private and public organisations and the example clauses below should be useful to departments developing or reviewing email disclaimers.

Customising this email disclaimer

The circumstances of each email will differ and it is therefore impossible to adopt a disclaimer that will cover all possible circumstances. It is therefore impossible to arrive at a ‘perfect’ email disclaimer, however much detail is included.

Agencies should carefully consider whether an email disclaimer meets the particular needs of the department including the clauses in Section 3.

Email disclaimer clauses

This guideline provides a generic disclaimer, and optional additional clauses which departments may consider adopting or using as part of a department-specific email disclaimer. For convenience, explanatory notes and a level for each clause have been provided to assist departments to assess whether a particular clause is suitable in the circumstances.

The following numbers have been assigned to clauses as an indication of their importance:

  • Level 1: The clause provides clear benefits to the department in mitigating tangible risks.
  • Level 2: The clause may assist in mitigating risk but the likelihood of relevant issues arising seems minimal or the benefits are less certain.
  • Level 3: The inclusion of the clause is largely a matter of discretion or policy.

Generic disclaimer

ClauseExplanatory notesLevel
[Name of department] – Notice-1

This email and any attachments may contain legally privileged or confidential information and may be protected by copyright. You must not use or disclose them other than for the purposes for which they were supplied.

The privilege or confidentiality attached to this message and attachments is not waived by reason of mistaken delivery to you.

If you are not the intended recipient, you must not use, disclose, retain, forward or reproduce this message or any attachments. If you receive this message in error please notify the sender by return email or telephone and destroy and delete all copies.

These clauses are intended to preserve any protection offered by the laws of privilege, confidentiality and copyright. However, it is the nature of the specific material and the circumstances in which it is provided that will determine whether or not these protections apply. Many emails will not be confidential in nature and the majority will not be privileged.

A general disclaimer stating that an email may be confidential or privileged is not an effective substitute for the email itself stating that the contents of the email are confidential or privileged when appropriate.

1
[Name of department] carries out monitoring, scanning and blocking of emails and attachments sent from or to addresses within [name of department] for the purposes of operating, protecting, maintaining and ensuring appropriate use of its computer network.Accessing emails at various stages of their transmission and storage raises a wide range of issues, including confidentiality, privacy and the application of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth). The risks associated with most of these issues can be significantly mitigated by ensuring that senders or recipients of emails are aware that their emails may be accessed by third parties.1

Additional clauses

ClauseExplanatory notesLevel
All reasonable precautions will be taken to respect the privacy of individuals in accordance with the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld).

Each department has obligations under the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld)and should have its own policies and procedures. If in the course of interaction with email correspondents it is likely that personal information will be collected or otherwise dealt with, it is likely to be more effective and appropriate that this be specifically addressed rather than including in all emails a generic statement that the department will comply with privacy obligations.

An alternative would be to include a link to the department’s privacy policy if it is relevant to email correspondence.

Agencies may also internally consult with their privacy officers where the handling of personal information is a concern.

2
[Name of department] does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may result from reliance on, or the use of, any information contained in this email and/or attachments.

This statement is primarily intended to reduce the exposure of the department to liability for negligence, particularly negligent misstatement, which may occur when a person relies on the information in the email to his or her detriment and the department has a duty of care to that person.

The statement attempts to disclaim any assumption of a duty of care by placing the recipient on notice that it should not rely on the email.

The courts have held disclaimers accompanying advice to reduce liability on many occasions.  However, such a disclaimer is unlikely to be meaningful in relation to most emails. A general disclaimer is unlikely to be an adequate substitute for taking care in the framing of an email so as to indicate whether or not the recipient should rely on its contents.

2
It is your responsibility to ensure that this email and any attachments do not contain and are not affected by computer viruses or defects.This statement is also intended to reduce the exposure of the department to liability for negligence if an email or an attachment includes some harmful code. The statement is often regarded as a worthwhile means of mitigating the risk that an email (or, more likely, an attachment) will contain a virus. A decision as to whether or not the clause is included in a generic disclaimer should involved a risk assessment as to the likelihood of a government email causing damage through virus infection, in light of effectiveness or otherwise of the government’s own anti-virus precautions.2
Unless specifically stated, this email should not be construed as a purchase order or an arrangement to provide a service.Statements such as this are often included in an endeavour to avoid claims that contractual relationships are formed through the exchange of emails. However, the substance of the email and the surrounding circumstances will be most important in determining whether or not an email has any contractual or other effect.2
Opinions in this email do not necessarily reflect the opinions of [name of department].Regardless of whether or not the statement is included, it will still be necessary to rely on the circumstances in order to determine whether or not the email reflects the opinions of the department or should be taken as reflecting the opinions of the department.3
Please think about the environment before you print this message.While the inclusion of environmental messages such as this is increasingly common, it is often pointed out that they may in fact increase the amount of resources used in printing emails.3
[Name of department] is bound by the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld), which provides members of the public with a legally enforceable right to access documents held by Queensland Government departments. This may include emails and attachments sent by or to [name of department].Statements of this type are increasingly being included in government contracts and correspondence. In this context they serve only to draw attention to the law and seem unlikely to have any legal effect in themselves.3

Last Reviewed: 22 August 2017