Reply From Attorney General Coakley's Office
In The Blogosphere: Savvy Gal

Should E-mail Addresses Be Considered Private Data?

According to the Security Fix blog by the Washington Post, a recent data breach at raised this issue whether e-mail addresses are private or public data. What happened:

"Security Fix learned of the data breach through a SunTrust customer who received a curious e-mail in mid-September; the message was sent to a custom e-mail address the guy had created for use exclusively with SunTrust. The message, which was addressed to the recipient by name and mentioned his company, urged him to download a PDF document to help resolve an identity theft complaint he had supposedly filed with SunTrust."

"SunTrust spokesperson Hugh Suhr said the purloined data included the names, e-mail addresses and physical addresses for about 40,000 SunTrust customers. He said the customer list was stolen from a database held by, and that contact information for ADP customers also was lifted from Salesforce."

For me, it's very simple. Whatever personal data I choose not to disclose is private data. That includes anything related to my identity... snail-mail address, phone numbers, age, and e-mail addresses.

Like many people, I have several e-mail addresses, some of which I keep private and don't disclose; others I disclose. If I am not sure of a retail site's privacy policy, then I'll use one of my "throw-away" e-mail addresses; an e-mail address I use temporarily and shut down as needed if it gets too much spam.

My point... just like consumers can specify an unlisted telephone number with their phone company's phone directory, so too should consumers be able to keep private their e-mail address, if they choose.

What do you think? Is your e-mail address private or public?


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