"Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient's assistant opens the letter, people who use Web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient's [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, 'a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties,'" said Google.
Consumer Watchdog, a group that has frequently objected to Google's privacy practices, calls this "a stunning admission," though it would more accurately be described as "established precedent," because the inline citation comes from a 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland.
The advocacy group's advice, however, is fair enough: "People who care about their email correspondents' privacy should not use the Internet giant's service."
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Indeed, people who care about their email correspondents' privacy should not be using email at all, or if they must, they should be using it only in conjunction with respected encryption tools. But the vast majority of those people do not care enough about privacy — their own or that of their correspondents — to acquire the technical expertise to effectively use encryption.
What Consumer Watchdog neglects to point out is that Google's attorneys are arguing that Gmail does not violate wiretap laws because "all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing."
In a phone interview, Consumer Watchdog's John M. Simpson described the issue with Gmail thus: "They're opening up content and going through it."
But they're not. Google employees don't read Gmail users' messages. Google computers do.