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Email Services and Customer Privacy in Light of Google’s Gmail Service
Should email customers opt to give up their private correspondences to corporations in return for the promise of more overall privacy, as well as other incentives? Or should corporations be prevented to use the contents of email for any purpose, imposed by a government data privacy law, whether consent is given or not?
In the case of the US-based corporation, Google, with its Beta introduction of Gmail[1], a new free email service, a customer who signs up to Google’s new email service and its Privacy Policy [2] and Terms of Use [3], also signs up to have their email’s contents read by a computer and processed by Google.
This effectively announces that they have no expectations of the privacy [4] of anything related to their email, even what is written to them by other parties. Which, in turn, allows for one’s 4th Amemdment rights to be further diluted because the “criteria for
determining that a search is constitutional is: if it does not violate a person’s reasonable or legitimate expection of privacy.” [4,7]

Will Google’s bold move start a wave of new uses of customer’s “private” data that may further errode privacy by showing that our expectations of our personal mail, phone conversations, or other forms of communications, are public domain, or atleast free to bartar with in order to obtain other services? At what point can this spiral
effect on our rights to privacy be reversed, if at all?
Already, there have been complaints from Europe [1], where there exists stricter data protection policies than the US,due to many factors that include the events of September 11 as well as the stance on self regulation on privacy issues here in the US[5,6]. Atleast 31 organizations “have written a letter calling upon Google to suspend its Gmail service until the privacy issues are adequately addressed.” [9]the Gmail Services and their Issues Here are some of Gmail’s proposed services and some Pro’s and Cons.
First off, the service entices customers to join by providing one GigaByte of email storage. This gives customers a good reason to switch and then stay, but it also allows for the storing of other sensitive information other than text that may have future privacy issues [1].
Secondly, the data may be stored indefinitely, even after the user deletes it or terminates their account. This could be seen as a good thing if you want to return to the site later, or if you accidently delete an email. However, it can also be a bad
thing because you don’t have control over your data even after you are no longer a customer. [1] It also could be very dangerous to you if it got in the wrong hands, “…the unlimited period of data retention poses unnecessary risks of misuse.”[9]

Finally, the third, and major Gmail service, is that they will use a computer to automatically go through the subjects and bodies of email to help block unwanted emails (SPAM) or viruses, and also add value by directing specifically tailored advertisements to their customers AND people who correspond to their customers via email [1,8].
Google does not believe this is an invasion of privacy because the email will not be “read” by employees, rather, it is just scanned and analyzed by a computer. However, according to the Privacy International complaint, the above processing operations may violate parts of Article 20 of Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of
the Council(the Data Protection Directive) [1]. The scanning also “creates lower expectations of privacy in the email medium and may establish dangerous precedents.”[9]

The Differences between the United States and Europe
The privacy law is different for the United States as it is for Europe. It seems privacy in the US now takes a back seat to security because of the events of September 11 and the introduction of the temporary Patriot Act: On October 26, 2001, President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act (“Act”), which expands law enforcement powers in ways directly affecting U.S. businesses. In particular, providers of communications services
(“service providers”), such as phone companies, Internet service providers
(“ISPs”) and cable companies, could be served with greater numbers of court
orders. Under the Act, service providers may be required to provide law
enforcement their subscribers’ web browsing information, e-mail correspondence, Internet access history and payment method. Any business may be ordered to produce “any tangible thing,” including business records containing confidential information. [10]

Possibly without these new policies, the rights to privacy would more closely resemble the EU’s data privacy standards[11] by now. However, even without 911, America’s market driven system is deeply rooted in a dependence on self regulation to close all the holes in privacy eventually.
“While the EU has taken a ‘top-down’ approach through legislation, the U.S. has opted for a ‘bottom-up’ attempt to allow industry to develop its own rules.” [6] However, we may be waiting a long time before we can be assured total email privacy if at all because
self regulation does not seem to be taking place. “The FTC issued a report on Internet privacy which showed that industry’s progress toward self-regulation was practically non-existent… additional governmental authority through legislation would be appropriate and necessary.” [6]