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I understand that there are ethical and possibly halachic issues with publishing a letter or piece of email that I receive from another person without explicit permission. What are the considerations in handling a letter or piece of email from an agent of a corporation (acting officially)?

For example:

  • If I receive a bill that seems outlandish, like a $100,000 phone bill for 20 local calls, may I post a scan of it to my blog?

  • If I have written to a corporation for information on some subject and they send a reply containing that information, may I share it? (For example, the email I received from the OU that I mentioned in this answer about a hechsher.)

  • If I have sent a letter of complaint and published my own letter, may I publish the reply I receive? Only if they helped me? Even if they declined?

Does a corporation, or someone writing on behalf of one, have the same expectation of privacy that a "regular person" would?

Of course CYLR and CYLL (lawyer) for practical advice, but I am looking for information that would inform that discussion, whether halachic or from mussar.

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See this (esp. p. 3) — quoted in one of the other R' Gershom questions on this site –  b a Jul 26 '12 at 22:08
@ba, thanks. P7 includes this: "Therefore, even if the sender did not write 'do not show it to anyone' and if it will not harm the sender by showing it one should still not show the letter to others." Citing "Shevet Ha'kehusi 1:315:7, Halichos V'hanhugos of the Steipler page 18b". (I don't know those sources.) –  Monica Cellio Jul 26 '12 at 22:25
By the way, the thing I intended by referring to p. 3 was that it is (according to Halachos Ketanos) permissible concerning a non-Jew. –  b a Jul 26 '12 at 23:34

2 Answers 2

As far as I know from experience, correspondence between a customer and a provider of services is not generally assumed to be confidential unless one party requests that it be so. Correspondence between two companies acting on official business would probably be considered confidential.

The reason for this is because (presumably) if a different customer asked the company the same question, they would get the same response. On the other hand, two companies doing business might be discussing information that is not generally released to the public.

I would say that it is safe to publish any correspondence that another customer could replicate by following the same steps that you did.

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You say "[a]s far as [you] know": from where do you know this? –  msh210 Jul 26 '12 at 20:43
@msh210: empirical evidence. –  Daniel Jul 26 '12 at 20:44

According to Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz (citing the Rashba for support), the cherem of Rabenu Gershom that bans reading others' mail was never instituted if such reading

will help the person who's [sic] privacy is being invaded, or others, in a physical or spiritual manner.

Most business-to-customer communications would seem to satisfy that criterion. (Posting a mistaken bill to your blog likely would not IMO.) However, as that page notes, consult your rabbi about any particular case.

Of course, this answer doesn't directly address your question. It's possible that all communication from a corporation is not under the cherem: I don't know. But it addresses, I think, most cases.

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It sounds like he is discussing the case where A receives a letter from B and C wants to take a look. I can't tell what he thinks of A taking action to share the letter. –  Monica Cellio Jul 26 '12 at 21:14
@MonicaCellio I don't see why that would be worse. It may even be better: at least in your case one of the two correspondents is willing to share, not true in Rabbi Shpitz's case. –  msh210 Jul 26 '12 at 21:16
Good point. I'm wondering if A can void B's privacy, or if B has no privacy because it's a company and not an individual. –  Monica Cellio Jul 26 '12 at 21:18
@MonicaCellio, right, see the last paragraph of my answer. :-) –  msh210 Jul 26 '12 at 21:22

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