If you are a business owner then you will undoubtedly need to send and receive countless emails every day. And there is every chance that some or all of those messages will contain data that you wish to keep private.

If you have read the news today then you will know that traditional means of protecting the contents of your private messages may not be as secure as you once thought. Many methods of encryption may be laying in tatters following revelations from ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden and that begs many questions about the way forward for secure communication.

Whilst I am not here to offer up any solutions today (does anyone actually know what encryption and privacy measures still ‘work’ right now?) I can suggest one email service you may want to pass on: Google’s Gmail.

In a federal court in San Jose, California, the search giant argued yesterday that they should be allowed to continue electronic scanning of people’s Gmail accounts in order to deliver targeted ads. They have asked the judge to dismiss a lawsuit that claims they illegally read and data mine the content of private email messages in violation of state and federal wiretapping laws.

Google argued that the law allows them, as an “electronic communication service”, to perform automated scanning in the “ordinary course of business” as they route and manage email messages. A lawyer for the company said that, “Google can articulate a legitimate business purpose” for the practice and that this exempts them from the wiretap legislation.

Google’s court filing says that their processes are, “a standard and fully-disclosed part of the Gmail service” and that the scanning they perform is fully automated and does not contain any human review element. They further contend that, “Gmail users consented to the automated scanning of their e-mails, including for purposes of delivering targeted advertising, in exchange for using the Gmail service.”

Sean Rommel, attorney for the plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit, said that Google’s argument was flawed though and that, “just because a person uses Gmail, privacy interests should be diminished is wrong.”

The case is set to continue for now with Judge Lucy Koh not ruling either way as Google look to have the motion dismissed. Lawyers for both sides will have to return next month to discuss a date for a potential trial.

In the meantime I would advise anyone using Gmail for business correspondence to think carefully about that decision.

My personal opinion (though I am not a lawyer) is that Google will have the case dismissed as their terms are relatively clear and have been in place for over ten years. That is not to say that it is a service that should be used to transmit sensitive information though.

Even though Google may be using automated processes to match adverts with email content, and not employing any kind of human element, it is not to say that no-one else is.

The latest leaks from Edward Snowden include one line which is of particular relevance which says that GCHQ had, by 2012, developed, “new access opportunities” into Google’s systems. It is not clear what this means exactly and Google have denied it but, even so…

With all the recent government surveillance revelations of late, who do you now trust when sending sensitive data across the internet?

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