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Misfired e-mail was never viewed by Gmail user

Rocky Mountain Bank says Google confirmed an e-mail with customer data that was mistakenly sent to a random Gmail address was never opened, has been destroyed.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read

A sensitive e-mail mistakenly sent by a bank to a Gmail address that prompted a court to order Google to deactivate the account was not viewed by the recipient and has been deleted, the bank said on Tuesday.

The e-mail, sent by an employee of Jackson, Wyo.-based Rocky Mountain Bank on August 12, contained names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and loan information of more than 1,300 bank customers.

The bank sent another e-mail asking that the data be destroyed and went to court to get Google to intervene on its behalf. Last week, a judge in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., ordered Google to deactivate the Gmail account and Google complied. Google and the bank quickly resolved the matter and the court granted their motion to dismiss the case and allowed Google to reactivate the Gmail account.

"Rocky Mountain Bank, working with Google (through court order), confirmed on Thursday of last week that the e-mail containing client information was never opened and has now been permanently destroyed by Google's system," Tina Martinez, general counsel for Rocky Mountain Capital, wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

"As a result, no customer data of any sort has been viewed or used by any inappropriate user during this data lapse," Martinez wrote. "Rocky Mountain Bank acted to protect its customer's confidential information. That objective was accomplished. The matter is now closed and the TRO (temporary restraining order) entered on September 23, 2009 is now vacated."

Asked for comment, a Google spokesman said: "To protect the privacy of our users, we do not comment on their use of Google services."

The case poses some interesting questions. For instance, should the person who registered the e-mail address lose access to the account or have items deleted without his or her permission, particularly through no fault of their own?

And what recourse would the bank have if the data had been sent via regular mail to the wrong address? The U.S. Postal Office certainly doesn't have the ability to see the envelope sitting on the recipient's desk and vaporize it.

Update 4:35 p.m. PDT:The bank did not take any action against the worker who sent the e-mail, the bank's lawyer said.