Having spent chunks of the past few days watching England's cricketers get back to normal by taking a good, old-fashioned thrashing, it's hard to feel too much sympathy for Justin Langer, the former Australian bat whose emailed dossier detailing the frailties of our players ('WARNING: ATTACHMENT IS TOO LARGE' surely popped up) was somehow outed to the media.
Langer wrote that Jimmy Anderson could bowl like "a bit of a pussy", Matt Prior has "a bit of an ego", and made other generous assessments of our boys. He was subsequently "disappointed" that a personal email sent to the Aussies' coach should be exposed by newspapers. Given that Langer earns his money captaining Somerset, there may be a tricky question of ethics here (unless Langer thinks 'ethics' is the county of Bopara and Cook) but, that aside, the denuding of his thoughts underlines the point that email can only rarely be viewed as a safe means of communication.
Look at many of the greatest scandals and embarrassments of the last several years and the medium has been the same. Think of Merrill Lynch's 'buy' ratings for stocks they privately mocked, Labour's Damian McBride and spinning, Shell's investor guidance or just the common-or-garden sexual disclosures that brighten our daily tabloids. More often than not, you can blame the mail.
The time has come when email should not be regarded as a sound way of communicating sensitive information. If you don't want the information out there you'd be better going back a stage and keeping minutes of conversations. These could still be electronic documents but the dangers of deliberately or accidentally forwarding messages will be removed, and the risk of those documents being intercepted will be much reduced. (Incidentally, there is nothing to stop you using paper records as another buffer, providing they are offered up on request to third-parties as part of standard corporate governance best practice.)
Even where contents are encrypted, email seems to hold a powerful attraction to those who want to communicate without thinking in a way that a meeting memo does not. People write emails in the way they talk in pubs, with emotion and little regard for logic or sense. It might be that we have to go backwards technologically to protect the accidental discloure of our transient thoughts and concerns.