I work for a company that services schools across the US and we receive email communications from them all the time.

On occasion I receive emails with blocks such as the following in their signatures:

PRIVACY & CONFIDENTIALITY OF INFORMATION NOTICE: This communication may contain non-public, confidential, or legally privileged information intended for the sole use of the designated recipient (s). If you are not the intended recipient, or have received this communication in error, please notify the sender immediately by reply e-mail or by telephone and delete all copies of the communication, including attachments, without reading them or saving them to disk. If you are the intended recipient, you must secure the contents in accordance with all applicable state or federal requirements related to the privacy and confidentiality of information, including the FERPA and HIPPA Privacy guidelines.

Under Florida law, e-mail addresses, and all forms of communications, including e-mail communications, made or received in connection with the transaction of School Board business are public records, which must be retained as required by law and must be disclosed upon receipt of a public records request, except as may be excluded by federal or state laws. If you do not want your e-mail address released in response to a public records request, do not send electronic mail to this entity. Instead, contact this office by phone.

My question regards the tail ends of both paragraphs. In both cases is appears that I'd be subject to binding by law or reductions in my privacy due to an email I may never have requested. In particular the first paragraph suggests that a public entity could contact me(provided they intended to) and I can then become responsible for securing the contents of an email I may never have requested or anticipated.

The second paragraph seems to suggest that my email address could become public record if I responded to a message sent in error(it lacks the clause about intended recipient). It seems backwards to make my information public based on interacting at all with the sender of an email I received.

The precise question is this: Can this school cause me to come under the authority of Florida public records law or make me subject to disclosure agreement regarding the information simply by sending it to me? Is there any requirement for at least implied consent?

(In case it matters, I don't have any great need to do so, I'm just curious at the presumptive language used in the notice).

Edit: The linked answer provides information for one of the clauses and suggests a possible answer for the rest, but doesn't provide for the disclosure clause regarding my own email. I've edited the question to try to twine them together more clearly. The whole concern is the ability of another entity to essentially opt me into an agreement, wherein the only real consent is opening a communication I received to see what it might be.


The second paragraph actually says that your e-mail address will become public record if you send an e-mail message to them. That's because there's a Florida law that requires this. If you want to communicate with the school without your e-mail address appearing in the public record, you can call on the telephone, send postal mail, or visit in person.

The notice is precisely there to inform you of the fact that sending e-mail to the school will have this effect, and it helpfully mentions one of the ways you can avoid that outcome:

If you do not want your e-mail address released in response to a public records request, do not send electronic mail to this entity. Instead, contact this office by phone.

If you think about the nature and purpose of public records laws, you will perhaps understand why the Florida law does not speak of consent or allow those corresponding with affected entities to opt out. If that were possible, then people who were conducting improper business with the public entities would withhold consent or otherwise opt out, making the public records law useless in the service of its goal of increasing transparency in government.

  • I think this is the answer to my question, I hadn't thought of the problem from the perspective of a school simply apprising me of the fact that they cannot legally hide/protect communications with me. I issue technical warnings regarding protections I cannot offer pretty regularly in my job, I should imagine others do too. And I guess in that light I can understand the clause as protecting me in the only legal way, which is to suggest before I respond, that I cannot do so without exposing my details to public records inquiry. – Joshua Rowlison Mar 22 '18 at 18:56

As phoog correctly states, if you reply to an email from a state agency, the entire message minus statutorily restricted information is subject to disclosure under Florida public records law, as long as the record (portion) is not exempted (confidential information may be redacted). It is reasonable to think (based on a reading of things exempted) that an email address is non-exempt, but that is not absolutely guaranteed. You should read their statement in para 2 as an interpretation of what the law requires. That law does not require you to do anything, instead, the school will do something if they are told to.

The tail of the first paragraph is somewhat deceptive. Whether or not you are the intended recipient, you "must" secure the contents in accordance with all applicable law. They do not actually state that any law is applicable to you. HIPAA and FERPA do not impose any requirements on "ordinary folks", they impose requirements on state agencies, educational institutes, medical practitioners, and so on. But, you are not interacting with them as "ordinary folks", you are doing so in connection with a business, and businesses are regulated. So in fact there are restrictions, HIPAA and FERPA being prominent, on dealing with emails, intended or not, which contain confidential information.

  • I agree that in my capacity at work all of this would apply, my question was regarding whether or not that signature(which I assume is automatically applied to all outgoing mail from the associated addresses) was correctly asserting that whomever receives that email is all of a sudden tied up in a large array of privacy regulations. Admittedly it's a long stretch but I was conceiving of some circumstance where a school might contact me intentionally and then disclose information that made me subject to HIPPA and require me to take action, without my consent/assent to participate. – Joshua Rowlison Mar 22 '18 at 18:48
  • It seems that you're saying the second paragraph isn't suggesting that anything new applies to me because of the email, only that any laws applying to me are definitely concerned with the possible contents of the email. So if I'm bound by HIPPA then that binding is effective upon the email I've received. I can't have two answers and @phoog definitely got the core of my problem, but I appreciate your additional input as it clarifies my perspective on that side as well. – Joshua Rowlison Mar 22 '18 at 19:02

The school is not binding you - the state is. All the school is doing is advising you of the legal obligations the state of Florida and the nation of the United States of America place on you.

States can do this because they have coercive power - that’s what laws are, obligations you have that you never consented to.

If you are physically beyond their jurisdiction they may have practical difficulties in enforcing their laws but your jurisdiction may cooperate with them to do so.

  • I believe you're misunderstanding the question I was asking. I recognize that the authority enforcing the law(if it applies) is governmental. But the party initiating the exchange of information that supposedly brings these laws into force on me is the school. A person at whatever school sent me an email that causes Florida to suddenly have interest or jurisdiction over my behavior in a way that they previously did not. I don't know if that's wrong legal language but I don't think it's wrong to say that the school bound me in some sense. – Joshua Rowlison Mar 21 '18 at 20:27
  • @JoshuaRowlison that the school (which, Dale M, is an agency of the state) sent you a message does not change Florida's interest in or jurisdiction over your behavior. Nothing changed: if you send an e-mail message to the school, your address becomes public record, whether you're replying to a message they sent you or not. Calling the school by phone does not put your e-mail address into the public record. The fact that you're more likely to do one of those things in response to the message they sent you doesn't seem particularly important. – phoog Mar 22 '18 at 17:01
  • I'd argue that having to figure out who contacted me and find a phone number/address where I can reach the specific person that emailed me is a big burden in order to stop receiving unwanted communications without making my email address public. In practical terms I don't care much, but it seems an irritating side effect of the law in this case. If a private company sent me an email and then made any response public, I'd have a case against them. But in the case of schools, they not only can but must share this information. – Joshua Rowlison Mar 22 '18 at 19:11
  • @JoshuaRowlison public doesn’t mean published. Your email is a government record and must be disclosed as required (e.g. by a FoI request) but it is not published as a matter of course. Private companies will also disclose your email where required by law. – Dale M Mar 22 '18 at 19:37

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