As Peter Slipper discovered recently, private and personal text messages are not really as “personal and private” as the sender would ordinarily like to think!
Once a text message has been sent, it can generally be retrieved for many years although normally only with a court order or warrant. And while it was SMS messages that got our former Speaker into hot water due to the recovery of some incriminating content, the same risk applies to any form of instantaneous communication such as email or messaging by social media.
The availability of historical messages and emails varies depending upon the internet service provider (ISP) or telco, however, it is fair to say that some telecommunications companies keep electronic records from the moment that an account is opened. If the records are retained by the provider, then there is always the potential for them to be recovered at some later point in time.
Whilst this is bad news for those engaged in lewd or criminal activity, it can be a real positive for those in business who wish to protect their commercial interests. Where contracts are negotiated by email or text message, the scope for dispute is narrowed significantly as a result of there being far less opportunity for argument about what was, and was not said at the time.
From a commercial perspective, there are real advantages to using email or messaging in the course of any negotiations. Not only are emails less formal and intimidating, but they provide a written record of the transaction, and if used sensibly and tactically, can provide a shield should any dispute arise in the future over contractual terms.
Whilst many of us might resent the fact that personal communications don’t really remain permanently and totally confidential, the application of common sense before hitting the send button is always going to be the best risk management strategy.