Law and Order on the Internet

By Jacob Palme

Abstract: Rules and ethical rules for e-mail, including a discussion of why these rules have been established, and the relationship between technical functions and the need for regulation.

This paper has previously been published inThe Arachnet Electronic Journal on Virtual Culture, ISSN 1068-5723, June 30, 1993, Volume 1, Issue 4 and as a chapter in the book Electronic Mail, published by Artech books in 1995.


Table of contents


10.1.1 Is There a Need for Electronic Mail Ethics?

As in other areas of human interchange, there is a need in electronic mail for:

  • Ethics, principles for suitable and unsuitable uses of the medium; and
  • Etiquette, forms for handling communication so that users know that certain types of communication are handled in certain ways.

   Ethics and etiquette often consist of unwritten rules. Sometimes, people try to write them down in more or less formal collections. Breaking these rules is usually sanctioned by social pressure. If someone breaks the rules, other people complain, which often gets the person to change his behavior. More formal organizational forms for sanctions, include ethics boards and rules that, for example, close the account for those who regularly break the rules.
   There are few laws, specifically controlling electronic mail. When the use of electronic mail is more widespread there may be more control of the medium through legislation. It is dangerous , however, to try to make laws controlling a technology under development the laws will easily be antiquated and can even cause more harm than benefit.
   Not everyone agrees on the proper ethics and etiquette in electronic mail. One community of users may have ethical rules which are in direct contradiction with those in another community. As an example, some electronic communities (for example EARN) forbid political discussions, while the constitution of many countries, allow unrestricted discussions of political issues.
   When two communities with different written or unwritten views on ethics and etiquette are connected, cultural collisions sometimes occur. People from one community act according to their ethics, and people in the other community may then find that these people are, for example, nasty, ill-mannered, ruthless, arrogant, lofty, stupidly careless, muddled, and vague. Strong emotional reactions and serious misunderstandings sometimes occur. Each group may try to use social pressure to get the other group to change their behavior.
   New users of electronic mail will often begin by trying to apply ethics and etiquette learned in other communication media like postal mail, telephone, or face-to-face meetings. The need for special ethical rules for electronic mail is especially important in cases where such ordinary ethics and etiquette are not suitable. The principles common to all human communication are often felt to be so obvious that they need not be included in the ethics of electronic mail.
   The reason why different kinds of ethics and etiquette may be needed for electronic mail is that it works differently than other media, and this causes different kinds of communication problems. Important differences between electronic mail and other media are that electronic mail makes it so easy, fast, and relatively inexpensive to distribute information to many recipients and that this information can be saved and forwarded in more ways than is possible with voice communication. Because of this, many ethical rules for electronic mail are primarily concerned with the use of electronic mail for group communication.
   Different electronic mail systems are designed in different ways, and this influences the need for ethical rules. As an example, a common rule of etiquette is that you should not send the same message to more than one mailing list or newsgroup (even in cases where the message is appropriate for more than one list/group). This rule is needed, because otherwise people who are members of several lists will get the same message several times. However, good mail and news clients are capable of recognizing such duplicates so that their users will only see one of the duplicate messages, even though they get the messages via different routes. In such systems, it may sometimes be suitable to send a message to more than one group.
   Another example is that some systems have a rule that says that you should delay sending a message, to see if someone else has already sent a message with similar content. Some systems even have a rule that you should not reply to everyone on a list, but only to the author of a message (this author is then expected to summarize the replies he gets for the whole list). These rules arise partly because of by delays in the distribution of messages, so that you cannot always be sure that you have seen all comments already written on an issue when you write your own entry. With shorter delays in the nets, these problems become less serious.
   When you read collections of ethical rules for electronic mail, you sometimes wonder if these problems could not be solved by better design of the systems instead of by regulating their users. A rule saying that people should not write long messages can be avoided if the system makes it easy for recipients to easily skip reading the rest of one message. A rule, that discussions should not branch off outside their initial topic may be avoided if it is easy for participants to unsubscribe only from the branch of a discussion which they are not interested in.
   Some people try to write ethical rules into the computer software, by designing electronic mail programs so that they stop users from behaving in ways the program designer finds unethical. Doing this, however, can be dangerous. It is difficult to teach a computer to judge correctly whether certain behavior is ethical or unethical. A behavior which in some cases may be unsuitable, may in other circumstances be necessary and suitable. It might be better to let the computer recommend and guide users towards good behavior but not to make it impossible for the users to knowingly break rules when necessary.
   Another form of control is to have one or more people whose task is similar to the chairman at a meeting. Their special task is to control what is written in a computerized group discussion. Some systems are designed so that these moderators must read every contribution, before it is sent to the group ( premoderation). In other systems, the moderators have the power to remove entries which are not suitable to the topic of a group, move them to another group, or start a new subgroup ( postmoderation). If a system gives the moderator such facilities, it is important that moving an entry automatically moves the whole branch of the discussion tree to which the entry belongs including future, not yet written entries. The administrator of a server also often has the right to delete any message in his server, this is needed in order to remove illegal messages which the administrator according to the laws in some countries may otherwise become legally responsible for.
   Premoderated groups, which require the moderator to read all messages before they are sent out, give the strongest control but slow down the interaction in the group. While the typical time between an entry and a reply is normally less than a day in groups which are not premoderated, it is usually about a week in premoderated groups.
   There are several reasons why organizers make certain groups premoderated. The first is that you can avoid messages which have no relevance to the subjects which the group is to discuss. The second is that you can avoid duplicates, where the same idea is put forward by different people. The third reason occurs when recipients get the messages via distribution lists, which send the messages to the personal mailboxes of the recipients. With the premoderated lists, the moderator collects all messages on a certain topic once or twice a week, so that the recipients get these messages together and not mixed up with other messages. This problem does not occur with good systems, since such systems will automatically sort incoming messages by topic so that the recipient can read messages by topic. This is another example of how human rules can circumvent technical shortcomings in the design of some message systems.
   My experience is that premoderation seems to be necessary for very large groups, with hundreds of participants, while postmoderation is more suitable for smaller groups.

10.1.2 Some Common Ethical Rules

This collection is based on ethical rules for Usenet News [1, 8], for CSNET [2], for EARN [3], for KOM [4], and a collection made by Anne-Marie Eklund [5].
   One property of electronic mail is that it is so easy to disseminate a message to so many people. Many ethical rules try to avoid the problems which this may cause. Such rules say that you should think before you write, keep to the topic of a group discussion, begin with the most important thing you have to say (so that those not interested can skip the rest), never write a message when you are angry, etc. The fact that you can wait a few hours to calm down before you write a message is an advantage electronic mail compared to face-to-face meetings.
   The more work an author puts into his message, the more time is saved for the recipients. This means that there is reason to spend more time writing a message if it is to be read by many people. Most people intuitively understand this principle. A problem with electronic mail is that you are not always aware of how many people are going to read what you write. A function which tells the authors of messages how many people will see their message might be useful. A person who writes a message usually sits alone in front of a computer screen. This intimate environment may tempt one to write something suitable for a group that is smaller than the group that will actually read the message. These kinds of experiences lead to ethical rules that personal assessments of other people should not be sent via electronic mail, or at least only to a very small closed group.
   Electronic mail is more often used as a replacement for spoken than for written communication. An important difference is, however, that you do not have the same fast and direct interaction with electronic mail. This means that behavior patterns which are suitable in spoken communication may not work in electronic mail. An example of this is booking time for a meeting . People new to electronic mail try to do this the way you normally do in a face-to-face situation: you propose one possible time, and if this is not acceptable, you propose another possible time until you have found a time acceptable to everyone. This method is not always suitable in electronic mail. A better method in electronic mail is to begin by indicating a series of possible times, and asking each participant which time they prefer. The participants then say which times are not suitable for each of them, so that a time suitable to all can be found.
   General courtesy rules of friendliness and consideration may be more important in electronic mail than in face-to-face communication, since you cannot, for example, immediately see a negative reaction and correct and clarify what you mean.
   A question can be answered by a message to the author only or to everyone who got the question. As an example, a question sent to a group of people asking at which time their flight will arrive is usually best answered personally to the author only. It is valuable if the electronic mail system allows the author to indicate where replies should be sent. However, many systems have a reply-to field but do not clarify what is meant by this field. It might mean:

  • Always reply to this address,
  • Use this address for personal replies to the author, or
  • Use this address for replies meant for all who read the answered message.

   Because of this, such reply-to fields often cause more problems than they solve. The general agreement in the Internet, however, seems to be that such reply-to fields are to be used only as substitutes for the originator, not as substitute for the group. Not all software is designed in that way, however. Usenet News has another field, called "follow-up to", that indicates where group replies are to be sent. This field, however, is not available in ordinary electronic mail.
   In some messaging communities, there is more-or-less a rule that if someone asks a question to a group of people, the reply should be sent to the author, and the author is then expected to summarize the answers to the whole group, if he feels that they are of general interest. This is of special importance in nets with long time delays, because otherwise there is a risk that several people, independently of each other, will write the same reply.
   Some systems even allow the recipient of a message to choose whether to see all replies to a question or only the summary of the replies composed by the author of the original question.
   Now and then, it happens that a message written to a small group is forwarded without permission from the author to a much larger group. Sometimes, the author of the message does not like this. Because of this, a common ethical rule is that you should not resend texts to larger and more open groups without permission from the author . This, like most ethical rules, should not be absolute. It is easy to see that in a particular case, the forwarding of a message will not be controversial: or that there may be a large common interest in something which has occurred in a small group that should be known by a larger group. Copying texts written by others is also controlled by copyright laws.
   The rules on advertising in electronic mail vary between nets. American nets usually have stronger restrictions against advertising than European nets, something which sometimes causes clashes when the two are connected. However, both European and American nets find it valuable that people representing hardware and software suppliers can participate in technical meetings on their product, and the border between desirable technical information and undesirable advertising is not always easy to define. One solution may be to have separate discussion groups and distribution lists for information from the suppliers and for general discussion of hardware and software products.
   By spams is meant obviously inappropriate message, usually of an advertisting kind, sent to multiple mailing lists or as personal mail. Spams became more used around 1995-1996, and many mailing list software contain methods to recognize spams (by recognizing the same message sent to many lists, and by recognizing certain elements in spams, like faked senders. A similar function is the cancelbots in Usenet News.) Legal control to restrict spamming can be expected, since otherwise the recipients are forced to pay the cost of advertising they receive.
   It is important that recipients should be allowed to control what lists they subscribe to, and be allowed to unsubscribe to lists when they want. This can be compared to the laws in some countries, that allow recipients to ask that their names be removed from direct-mail address lists.

10.1.3 Ethics and Language

Face-to-face communication involves body language, facial inflections, and nuances of voice. Such tools give important emotional signals in association with what you are explicitly saying for example, to clarify that you were ironic. Because written communication lacks these tools, serious misunderstandings can occur. To avoid this, special punctuation (so-called smileys) is sometimes used in electronic mail to indicate that what you are saying is not to be interpreted at face value. Common punctuation is, for example, ":-)"  (which looks like a smiling face if you turn it 90 degrees).
   There are also other special syntactical conventions used in electronic mail. Many electronic mail networks are not capable of forwarding underscored, bold, or italic text. Because of this, a common convention is to write one or more asterisks around a word you want to stress. Another common convention is to put " >"   in front of quotations, usually at the beginning of a line. For example,

Andersen writes something very **important**:
> Body language can sometimes be replaced
by special symbols,
> but sometimes people may overstep the mark.

   Some e-mail communities also adopt a modified language for use in e-mail. Such language can, of course, be a barrier to new e-mail users. Here are some examples of special terms in such a modified language:

BTW by the way
in other words
FYI for your information
IMHO in my humble opinion
RSN real soon now (which may be a long time coming)
FAQ frequently asked question
OBO our best offer
2 'to'. For example, 'F2F' or 'face2face' as abbreviations for 'face to face'
:-) this is a joke, not to be taken seriously
:-( I am unhappy
;-) winking, teasing, flirting

Several books have been published with collections of such acronyms and smileys [6, 7]. You can also easily find more complete lists on the World Wide Web.

10.1.4 Private Usage of Office Mail Systems

One controversial issue is whether employees in companies and government departments should be allowed to use the electronic mail system for private messages, and if not, how to stop this. The problem can be compared to using your office phone for private phone calls or talking to your coworkers during office hours about personal problems. For some reason, perhaps because it is a new medium, some people are more troubled by such behavior in the case of electronic mail than in the case of phone and face-to-face misuse of office resources.
   It is important to be aware that the borderline between private and official usage of electronic mail is not always easy to define. An important usage of electronic mail is to exchange information and learn. The borderline between what you are learning privately and what you are learning to be able to do your job better is also not easy to define. For example: if an employee of the Defense Research Institute discusses computer security or nuclear power security, is this private communication or part of his job? Even if the employee is not at that moment working on security issues in these areas, knowledge in such areas are important in defense planning.
   There is not much statistics available on the extent of private usage of electronic mail. In the KOM system, I found that about 10 percent of the usage was obviously private, like Bridge playing or computer games.
   These issues might be easier to solve if they are split into issues of economics, ethics, and power/influence.
    " From an economic viewpoint, the benefits of electronic mail are so large, that even if 10 percent of the usage of the system is private, it still benefits the employer. This is even more so if you take into account that phone and face-to-face communication in the office are sometimes used for private purposes.
    One should also note that computers, like electricity, cost very little during low usage times of day. Because of this, some companies have issued rules that their employees may use the electronic mail system privately, but only outside office hours.
    " From a moral and ethical point of view, many people feel that private usage of an office electronic mail system is to be condemned even though the costs to the employer are not large.
    " From a power/influence point of view, management may sometimes feel that the introduction of electronic mail reduces their ability to control what is happening in their company. They sometime try to rectify this by instituting ethical rules against private usage of the system.

10.1.5 Anonymous Messages

It is not surprising that the ability to send anonymous messages causes ethical problems. Some people claim that such messages should not be allowed, because the misuse this facility can produce like slander, defamatory statements, and libel or other illegal communication. Other people say that anonymity is valuable since it allows people to make public valuable information which they dare not divulge otherwise because of pressure from powerful people.
   The real fact is however that anonymity exists, whether we like it or not and will continue to be available unless very stringent measures are used to stop it. Anyone, in any country, who believes in anonymity can set up an anonymous server, and stopping people from using such servers is not easy.
   If an anonymous server was used to propagate information that was illegal according to the laws of the country in which the server resides, then police could probably be able to use legal means to break anonymity. No one can totally rely on being anonymous, because there are known ways of breaking the security of anonymous servers. The user of anonymous servers can counter this by using a chain of anonymous servers, so that the police have to break all of the servers to find the person behind anonymous messages. If the anonymous user uses a chain of anonymous servers stationed in different countries, the police have to break all of the servers in each country to find the culprit.
   From an ethical viewpoint, an important facility of anonymous servers is that you can send messages to the person who wrote particular anonymous messages. Thus, it is possible to use social pressure on people who misuse anonymity.


The constitutions and laws in many countries contain sections which are applicable to electronic mail. For example, relevant sections say

  • that the rights of free speech is important;
  • that the right of every citizen to inform himself of what other people have publicly said is important;
  • that the government (and sometimes private persons or organizations) are forbidden from eavesdropping on private mail and phone calls unless special rules are followed (for example, permission by a court for certain police investigations); and
  • that the rights of citizens to privacy is safeguarded.

   Thus, free speech, the right to communicate, and protection against eavesdropping may be also applicable to electronic mail . The extent to which such laws are valid for electronic mail may vary from country to country.


Some countries have laws that require documents produced by government agencies to be available for inspection by any citizen, except when certain secrecy rules are in effect. These laws are normally not applied to phone calls unless they are recorded, but in most cases they are applied to electronic mail, since it is a written and normally recorded medium. This means that electronic mail communication in government agencies may be open to inspection by the public. This may also mean that the government agencies are not allowed to delete electronic mail messages except as permitted by archiving laws.


Some countries have special laws controlling printed publications. These laws are usually not applicable to electronic mail, but this can, of course, vary from country to country.


Many countries have special legislation controlling computers and privacy. The goal of such legislation is to protect the privacy of individuals in relation to the processing of personal data in data files. Such national legislation is often based on some international agreements in this area:

  • Guidelines on the protection of privacy and the cross-border flow of personal data, established by the organization for economic development (OECD) 23 September 1980.
  • Convention of 28 January 1981 for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data, established by the Council of Europe.
  • Proposal for a directive concerning the protection of individuals in relation to the processing of personal data, prepared by the European Community in 1990.
  • Proposal for a directive concerning the protection of personal data and privacy in the context of public digital telecommunications networks, in particular the integrated services digital network (ISDN) and public digital mobile networks, prepared by the European Community in 1990. The basic principle of these international agreements and national legislation is that people and organizations should not be allowed to store and process personal data about other people unless they do so according to special rules. Typical of such special rules are the following:
    • A supervisory authority can control the use of computers for storing and processing of personal data.
    • Those who wish to store or process personal data must either have permission from this supervisory authority or, in some cases, inform this supervisory authority. The authority may then regulate what personal information is to be stored and how it may be processed.
    • People, if they have personal information stored in computers, must be notified of this, and/or may request a copy of what is stored about them and then can request that incorrect information be corrected.
    • In some cases, for example, individuals may have the right to be excluded from address files used for market research and advertising.
    • The legislation often regards the storage of certain information as especially sensitive and as subject to special control. Such information is data revealing ethnic or racial origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership, and data concerning health or sexual life.
    • Moving personal information from one data base to another may be restricted by special rules. Such laws may effect electronic mail in several ways
    • Electronic mail systems include directories of users and what they have written. These are typical of the kind of personal information for which the computers and privacy legislation was intended, and there is usually no problem in applying the legislation to such information.
    • Information about electronic mail users, like directory information, and information about messages they are sending and receiving is often moved between different electronic mail systems, and often from country to country. Because of the international nature of electronic mail, this may cause problems, if, for example, the computers and privacy laws forbid moving such information to countries who have not signed the OECD convention. One might compare this to postal organizations being forbidden to send mail to and from such countries or to phone companies being forbidden to connect phone calls to and from such countries.
    • The text in electronic mail messages will, of course, often contain personal information, often exactly the kind of information which such rules say should be controlled especially strictly. For example, in electronic mail discussion groups, many messages may contain information about political, religious, and philosophical beliefs and may reveal a person's racial or ethic origin. A love letter may contain data concerning a person's sex life. Personal messages may also, of course, contain information about health: for example, someone sending a message that they cannot come to a meeting because of illness or giving health advice to friends with health problems, etc. Note that computer and privacy legislation often conflicts with legislation about freedom of speech, which is intended to safeguard the rights of individuals to communicate, and especially to communicate freely, in areas like politics and religion. Many countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, France, Austria) have exempted computer usage in newspaper offices from the computer and privacy laws in order to protect freedom of speech. For similar reasons, perhaps electronic mail should also be exempted.
This conflict between freedom of speech legislation and computer and privacy legislation is not easy to resolve. Usually, those who have encountered this problem resolve it by saying that storing personal information in word-processing documents, electronic mail messages, etc., should not to be controlled by the computer and privacy laws. These laws are should apply only to more structured ways of handling personal information.
   However, there are still difficulties on where to draw the line between what is and is not permitted. Is it, for example, permitted to collect electronic mail messages so that you can easily check what a certain politician has said on a certain issues in those messages or what opinions on a certain issue have been voiced by different people?
   Is it permitted to send via electronic mail a list of references to journal articles? Such a list can be seen as a structured data base of personal information and so is probably covered by the computer and privacy laws even if such laws only apply to structured information bases.
   As an example, Sweden, which was one of the first countries to establish computer and privacy legislation, has had severe difficulties in trying to solve conflicts in interpreting these laws as they apply to electronic mail systems. This has included forbidding the use of certain electronic mail systems and forbidding the discussion of political issues in certain electronic mail systems! The Swedish supervisory authority has had problems in clarifying how to resolve the conflict between freedom of speech and computers and privacy laws.


Copyright laws give authors the right to control the use of what they have written. In many countries, such laws can also apply to messages in electronic mail systems. The extent to which such laws are applicable to electronic mail may vary. Some providers of electronic mail services have notices in their contracts with customers that the customers are giving the providers a copyright license to use what the customers have written in the system, according to the normal principles used for distribution of messages in the system.


One might believe that in a democratic society, freedom of speech would allow you to say anything you want in electronic mail. This, however, is not true.
   Below are some examples of messages which may be illegal in many countries.

  • Slander,
  • Computer viruses,
  • Military secret information,
  • Privileged information supplied to lawyers, physicians, priests, etc.,
  • Personal information not allowed according to privacy legislation,
  • Copyrighted material, unless you have permission from the copyright holder,
  • Sedition (incitement to rebellion),
  • Racial agitation,
  • Pornography/obscenity,
  • Criminal conspiracy,
  • Disloyalty against your employers, and
  • Misconduct.
   The exact definition of what kinds of speech are allowed and forbidden may vary much between countries, but some kinds, for example, child pornography, are forbidden in most countries.
   Electronic mail, like almost any other tool, can be used for various kinds of illegal acts which may not be specific to the electronic mail medium, just as the telephone and the postal system can be used illegally. Of course, this will become more common with the wider use of electronic mail. A well-known example of this is the electronic mail system in the White House, in which Oliver North and his associates sent messages to each other concerning illegal funding of the Contras in Nicaragua. In that case, the actual messages had been erased, but not all backup copies were erased, and by court order, these backup copies were retrieved and used as evidence against North.
   This example shows that a wise criminal would probably not choose to use electronic mail. A wise criminal uses the telephone carefully, since police may be listening. But, as the Oliver North example shows, police may be able to find what has been said in electronic mail, although the messages were not tapped when sent. This makes electronic mail even more dangerous than the telephone for the criminal.
   In one case in Sweden in 1987, a person was sentenced to pay 15,000 kronor (about $ 2500) in damages for defamation of character. In a computer forum system he had distributed messages which implied that another person was a Russian spy. These messages had been read by about 100 people in the forum system. If this person had made the same statements by voice at a meeting, his risk of prosecution would probably have been lower because it would be more difficult to prove exactly what he said. A transcript of what he had written was given to the defamed person by a user of the forum system: this probably would not have been possible if his statement had been made by voice.


Contracts and agreements are very important legal concepts. Contracts and agreements can be formed in many ways, and there is usually no legal requirement that a contract must be written and signed. An exchange of electronic mail messages can thus be regarded as a legal contract. In such a case, when and where a contract is agreed to via electronic mail has been made must be clarified.
   It is advantageous in disputes over contracts to be able to prove that a certain exchange of electronic mail messages, that result in a contract has occurred and to be able to prove who wrote the messages. There is thus a need for something corresponding to signatures on postal letters and contracts written on paper. There are also very secure methods for electronic signatures and seals. An electronic signature is actually more reliable than a signature on paper, since a signature on paper is very easy to forge. In one test, one-third of a group of people were not able to distinguish between their own signature and a forgery. Electronic mail might thus make contracts more secure. The main risk with electronic signatures is that the secret key for a person may be stolen. Advanced algorithms are employed to protect against this risk.
   One way of getting even higher security would be to establish electronic archives, into which electronic messages and agreements could be sent and registered. If these archives were run by a third party, such as public notaries, they could provide very high security against falsification or false denials of computerized agreements.


It is sometimes important to distinguish between letters sent to an organization, letters sent to a private individual, and letters sent to an individual as employee of an organization. This can, for example, control who is allowed to look at the letter if the indicated recipient is not available and whether an official legal reply to the letter from the organization is expected. Some countries may have other special laws controlling official letters to private or government organizations.
   How is this represented in electronic mail? One should first note that there is no rule that says that the recipient of an electronic mail must be a person. Even when a so-called interpersonal mail service is used, it is perfectly legal to address an electronic mail message to an organization, although all organizations may not be able to receive such messages. Many companies have a default mailbox with the name "Postmaster", to which mail to the company that is not addressed to a given individual can be sent. For example, you might send a message to
   Postmaster@STANFORD.EDU or
   when you want to reach the official organization Stanford University. 
   Note that the personal name component is not mandatory in X.400 electronic mail addresses. The following addresses are thus allowed, even though all organizations may not be able to handle incoming mail with such addresses:
   O=Stockholm University/ADMD=Sunet/C=SE or
   OU1=Subscription department/O=Scientific American/A=CompuServe/C=US
   In the 1988 version of X.400, there is an alternative to the personal name called common name  which can be used to designate entities other than individual persons.
   In ordinary postal mail, you sometimes indicate whether a message is to be delivered to an individual personally or to an individual as an employee of an organization, in the following way:
Format to indicate a personal letter Format to indicate a letter to the company
John Smith
Company XYZ
Box 1234, Small Town
Company XYZ
Att: John Smith
Box 1234, Small Town
There is no directly corresponding facility in current electronic mail standards. However, X.400 has some facilities which might be used to indicate this.
   On the P1 envelope, X.400 has a field called a. This indicates whether someone other than the named recipient is allowed to open the message. If this field is not included in a message, it should not be delivered to an alternate recipient. If, for example, you send a message to an individual who is no longer employed at the company, this field indicates that someone else should then open the message.
   In the P2 heading, X.400 has a field called with the allowed values personal, private, and company-confidential. The absence of this field means that the message is not sensitive in any of the three ways. The value private probably indicates that the message is not intended for the organization itself, but whether the absence of this field should be construed to mean that the message is legally intended for the whole company is not obvious.


Since e-mail is such an international medium, it is sometimes difficult to know which country's laws are applicable. This is important since the laws regarding communication vary so much between countries. Suppose a person in a country which forbids pornography receives pornography through e-mail from a country where pornography is permitted, or the reverse. Who is guilty of illegal acts?
   When an illegal act causes damage, should the laws in the country of the sender be used? Or the laws of the country where a person was hurt by the illegal act?


In the case of phone and postal mail, we normally place the responsibility for the communication with the users of these services, not on the phone and postal companies. It seems natural to apply the same principle to e-mail. However, there is no sharp border between e-mail and data bases. The courts and lawmakers have not yet clarified this. A general tendency seems to be that police forces and prosecutors want the responsibility to be with the service providers, since it is easier to find and control them than their customers, but that they have not always succeeded in persuading the courts to share this view. The risk of placing the responsibility with the service providers is, of course, that this may force these providers to control and censor the communication in ways not compatible with freedom of speech principles.
   Who is responsible for illegal messages passed via anonymous servers? Suppose a person in the United States sends a message via an anonymous server in Finland to recipients in the United States, and suppose that the message was illegal according to U.S. laws but not according to Finnish laws?


Depending on the laws in different countries, law enforcement agencies may or may not be allowed to wiretap electronic mail, search your e-mail records, seize equipment used in the conduct of illegal communication, etc.


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Rospach, Chuq, A Primer on how to work with the USENET community 1993, available from URL,


Rospach, Chuq, Bibliography of Internet Self Regulation, available from URL

Palme, Jacob: Legal and Ethical Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication, The Arachnet Electronic Journal on Virtual Culture, ISSN 1068-5723, June 30, 1993, Volume 1, Issue 4.

See also Internet Law in Sweden  Rating .