A confidentiality disclaimer is a legal statement accompanying a communication to notify the recipient that the document is confidential and to provide some information about how to handle the document in order to maintain confidentiality. Confidentiality disclaimers can be included in larger legal statements and are commonly seen on email communications, faxes, and printed records sent to people by request such as medical records. Such disclaimers are usually drafted by an attorney, although people may use a generic statement as a disclaimer rather than hiring a lawyer to generate a custom document.
Several components are included in a confidentiality disclaimer. The first discusses the confidentiality of the information and defines the intended recipient or user. If information is acquired or sent in error, the recipient is asked to destroy the information to maintain confidentiality, and may be told to contact the person named in the disclaimer to alert the person to the fact that the information went astray. Private communications marked with such a disclaimer cannot be used by people other than the authorized parties.
Confidentiality disclaimers can also define the legal relationship between the person sending the information and the person receiving the material. Special legal relationships such as doctor-patient relationships must be clearly defined and the confidentiality disclaimer discusses the nature of the relationship. Simply receiving a document from a doctor does not create a legally recognized relationship, for example, but if the document defines the recipient as a patient, it does.
Confidentiality disclaimers also discuss the way the information should be used. Defining intended use can be important if confidentiality issues later arise in court, as people can determine whether the information was abused on the basis of the inclusion of such statements in a confidentiality disclaimer. Limits on use of information may be designed to protect privacy or security, depending on the nature of the information being provided.
While people tend to skim legal language when they encounter it, it is advisable to read and review disclaimers carefully. The disclaimer can contain important information, including information about who to contact if there is a problem. It also discusses liability issues and the authorized use of the information, two key things to be aware of, in addition to outlining the rights of the recipient. People handling confidential information should know their rights so they can defend themselves in the event of a dispute. If a party appears to be flouting the responsibilities outlined in a confidentiality disclaimer, the other party should draw that party's notice to the clauses being violated.