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Be Careful What You Write

Shimmy Blum

Slowly but surely, keyboard strokes are supplanting traditional verbal communication. The significance that e-mail and other computer correspondence carry in our business, social, family, and religious lives is enormous. Mishpacha explores how one slip of the keyboard can be as damaging as a slip of the tongue — if not more so.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Without counting spam and virus messages, over 30 billion e-mails — or roughly five per every human being on the planet — are sent throughout the world each day.

For a broad swath of the public, reading and posting on blogs has become the preferred venue to get news and opinion and air out grievances. The world’s largest social networking website alone boasts about 10 percent of the world population as members. And, according to the University of Southern California’s Digital Future Report, Americans who use text messaging send about forty messages a day; the number more than doubles for those under eighteen.

Electronic communication and social interaction is now an integral part of most adults’ lives. The new medium is seen as handier and enables users to reach far more people than face-to-face or telephone communication can. Corresponding to this growing popularity, however, is a growing, yet often elusive, significance to those innocuous looking keyboard strokes.

A New York State Supreme Court judge recently ruled that an e-mail commitment to a real estate transaction is just as valid as a signature to an official paper contract, though the particular e-mail contract in that case was ruled invalid due to an unrelated technicality in its content.

Manhattan attorney Meyer Y. Silber says that while the principle that an e-mail signature is binding has long been acknowledged in the legal world, with several enacted laws and judicial rulings as precedent, this particular ruling went even further.

“Until now, we knew that an ‘e-signature,’ or at least someone typing their name at the end of the e-mail, should be equated to an affirmative handwritten signature,” said Mr. Silber. “However, this judge left as an open question the possibility that even a template e-mail signature that’s automatically signed onto each e-mail sent out of the account could possibly be binding as well.”

Silber says that correspondence sent from one’s e-mail account is assumed to have been written by the sender. “The fact that you sent it out knowing that it’s [automatically] signed could mean that you meant to commit to it.”

In response to this ruling, attorneys advise that a disclaimer saying “this message shall not be deemed an offer, as no documents are binding unless and until executed” or something similar should accompany any automated signature.


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