30 May 2017

Email Snoops: Social Media Law Update

by Verlie Oosthuizen, Partner, Durban,
Practice Area(s): Social Media / Cyber Crimes |

The last thing that anybody wants to see is the contents of their private emails splashed over the front page of the Sunday newspapers, especially in instances where they document wrong doing or planning of illicit activities.  On Sunday we learnt all sorts of details about the First family of SA and many people are wondering whether the leaking of these emails was legal.

One of the fundamental and fiercely protected foundations of journalism is the confidentiality of sources and so we will probably never know where the Sunday Times managed to source those emails.  There are very limited circumstances where a journalist will be required to reveal their sources and when there is a story that is in the national interest then it is very unlikely that a confidential source will have to be named.

In any event, the emails were copied and sent to a number of individuals and any one of those parties could have provided the information.  In terms of the Regulation of the Interception of Communications Act (RICA), you are allowed to “intercept” communications such as emails if you are a party or recipient of that email.  In most instances you are not allowed to intercept the emails of others, however in the workplace you cannot have an expectation of complete privacy and most employers will specify that they will monitor emails as it is their IT system and they have a right to do so.  Interestingly enough, you cannot monitor the emails of your spouse without a court order!

We may never know who leaked the “Gupta” emails, but it is a lesson that you must be very careful of whom you address emails to and which IT system you send those emails on as it may be that those emails find their way to the very people you do not want to see them.