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Bar News - October 18, 2013

Tech Talk: Big Brother Is Reading Your Email. Seriously.


The future of law practice management

Rob Howard
Recently, I polled attendants at the 2013 Legal Trends conference in Boston, in an attempt to determine how many firms regularly encrypt email and data files in their servers. My unscientific survey results found that only about 5 percent do.

The year 1984 has come and gone, but Big Brother is more intrusive than ever, a point driven home at the conference during a presentation by Nancy Gertner, a retired federal court judge in Massachusetts.

It was a wake-up call, and it has become clear that the reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment is a myth. Telephone and bank records are not "private," because either they are not considered content (phone records) or are held by a third party (bank accounts). And, if you get a new iPhone, your fingerprint can be searched by an inquiring government.

This message about privacy, or the lack of privacy, inspired my inquiry about encryption in the law office. Many firms append to their email a paragraph that says, effectively, "Donít read this if it isnít yours," which seems more like an incentive to read it immediately.

Encryption of email can be free, and we all could be using it. I donít have the space here to lead you through the whole process, but there are some good articles online, and some open-source and public domain software is available. PC World recently published an interesting article about how the NSA can crack almost any encryption and has worked with major software developers to create "back door" access to encrypted data.

Thatís why a lot of techhies recommend the open-source software instead. For one such recommended source of software, visit

Next month, I hope to address encryption of data on your hard drive. As always, please email me at if you have any suggested topics for this column, or recommendations for encryption software.

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