Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Making electronic communications evaporate

A new technology is emerging to allow separation of personal conversations and messages from business communications, and to allow the possibility of communications without leaving an audit trail, by encrypting messages and erasing them immediately after sending and receiving and reading.

All of this was reported in a Washington Times story, Brian Bergstein, “Messages to vanish in virtual vapors, System removes email records,” Sept. 25, 2006, at this link.

The company is called Void Communications LLC, and the product is called VaporStream Stream Messaging.

Specific information about this new company seems limited so far. A "Tech-Surf" blog by Graeme Thickin provides some description. The product provides the ability to keep sent and received messages from being seen at the same time, or from being copied or pasted. There are obvious law enforcement concerns that persons with malicious intent could use this technology to plot and cover their tracks.

To get an idea of how ad and public relations companies promote new companies like this, see Schwartz Communications.

Companies have often dealt with legal controversies over retention of email and other communications records. In some cases, there are legal incentives to erase communications, but in other cases, as with financial services, there are definite statutory record keeping requirements. But employees in a company might be inclined to use such a product to carry on personal business at work, and employers might be disinclined to offer it.

I always felt more comfortable if I had a record of all of my work-related communications. For example, I often preferred email to voice mail because I had a convenient record of what I had sent. In a broader sense, keeping records of work (even printouts), such as systems testing, for “CYA” purposes was often viewed as a controversial practice. It seems that if you have confidence in your work, you don't need to keep the evidence around.

In conjunction with the investigations of Congressman Mark Foley, commentators have pointed out that, while emails are saved by ISPs, IM's are not, unless the recipients save the IM's themselves. Police decoys will, of course, save IM's and chat logs as evidence. It is unclear if this new product could hinder such law enforcement techniques.

Note also that Vaporstream is also the name of an electric humidifier.

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