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UK MP calls for an end to email disclaimers

Last week, a UK MP called on Parliament to end the practice of adding “useless” legal disclaimers at the bottom of emails. Sir Alan Duncan said the “meaningless missives” led to “forests’ worth of paper” being wasted when emails are printed out, although this would only initially cover public bodies.

He feels that disclaimers are a hangover from the early days of the Internet and therefore have no place in modern email communications. He has proposed that all disclaimers be replaced with a link to an attachment.

“We have all been there,” he said. “A short email comes in from a friend, colleague or company and we hit print and then we look in horror as page after page spews out.” He continued to say that disclaimers are barely read by anyone and even fewer people pay attention to them.

He said that the creation of the world wide web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee was “a matter of national pride” for the UK, but added: “This moment of innovative genius should not be allowed to be tarnished by the very worst of sluggish, bureaucratic verbiage that is represented by the e-mail disclaimer.” He then highlighted that during his time as International Development Secretary, he managed to reduce his department’s email disclaimer to just 17 words.

The legislation was accepted at first reading, but due to the fact that there is a General Election in May, it is highly unlikely that it will become law due to a lack of parliamentary time.

The full version of Sir Alan Duncan’s speech can be read here.

At first glance, it seems like a good idea from an environmental perspective. Companies have a duty to enforce an environmental policy, so not wasting paper is important. However, we would question why you would need to print an email in the first place. You can now view emails from many different devices such as mobiles. Emails are no longer confined to just a desktop PC, therefore you can keep copies of any email in multiple locations.

Also, with the rise of email archiving solutions like Exclaimer Mail Archiver, companies can keep copies of all corporate emails and refer to them when they are required such as for e-discovery purposes.

The most important point to note is that email disclaimers are required by law in the UK, Europe and North America. If Sir Alan Duncan’s bill is eventually passed in the UK, it doesn’t mean that laws will change in other countries – see The Importance of Email Disclaimers for more information. Therefore, removing your disclaimer altogether would put your business in breach of many international email laws.

Disclaimers were originally created to do things like cover confidentiality breaches, adhere to various email regulations and prevent companies being liable for negligent advice.

The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is one such law that requires a company to ensure that all email signatures include appropriate opt-out hyperlinks for unsubscribing. Each employee, therefore, has to have a compliant email disclaimer added to their email signature or a company runs the risk of facing up to a $10 million fine and criminal charges.

We do, however, agree with the idea that email disclaimers can be replaced with a separate link to a webpage or attachment. This ensures that you have the security of a legal disclaimer and save space on emails. So, how do you enforce this?

Signature Manager Exchange Edition allows you to centrally define disclaimers with ease, so you can create the aforementioned link . Disclaimers get added at the server automatically and users have no way of changing them, so you can also be certain that you are constantly following the law.

With central management, you can ensure that all users’ corporate emails consistently have a professional email signature with the necessary compliant legal disclaimer. The software also recognizes that disclaimers only need to appear in an email conversation once, so it won’t add one after another when you are in communication with an external recipient.

In the end, we believe that the answer is not to create new legislation for email disclaimers but to enforce tighter control. With this in mind, dedicated software is the best way to do this.