Legal Definition of Communication

As a foundation of human relationships and social interactions, communication plays a key role in legal matters. Examples of legal issues that involve communications include business contracts, property records, traffic regulations, stock exchange disclosure regulations, healthcare privacy, workplace safety notice requirements, warrants, intellectual property disputes, and defamation suits, to name just a few. Indeed, there are few if any areas of the law that do not involve communications in some form or another.

This makes the legal definition of communication a crucial issue. What constitutes communication has a direct bearing on legal issues such as what types of privileged communication are protected by law. This in turn can impact what legal responsibilities are incumbent upon parties to protect sensitive conversations, which can determine technological options when choosing communications tools. Here’s some background on the legal definition of communication, how it relates to technology, and how to choose the right technological solution to protect legally sensitive communication.

Understanding the Legal Definition of Communication

In everyday layman’s speech, we typically use the term “communication”(1) to refer to the conveying of information from one person to others, whether this is done verbally, non-verbally, in writing, or electronically. Legal definitions of communication expand on this common-sense definition, giving it a shade of technical meaning referring to discussion of a contract or consultation. According to Black’s Law Dictionary,(2) “communication” involves the giving of information or sharing of knowledge, in particular when this involves a conference, consultation, or bargaining over a contract. This definition can be important for distinguishing conversation about a contract, which does not itself constitute a contract agreement, from a legally binding contract itself.

In a legal context, some forms of communication are considered “privileged.” This means that the court system recognizes a private, protected relationship between the parties involved, where their communications are confidential and the courts cannot force the disclosure of their contents. In order for communication to be considered protected, it must involve a legally recognized protected relationship, it must be conducted in a private setting, and it must not be disclosed to third parties who are not part of the protected relationship. Examples of privileged communication recognized in many legal jurisdictions include:

  • Attorney-client privilege, involving private conversations between lawyers and those they represent
  • Spousal conversations, as in the case where one spouse cannot be compelled to testify against another
  • Religious consultations between pastors and their parishioners, as in conversations under the seal of confession
  • Healthcare communications between professionals such as physicians, psychologists, and social workers and their patients or clients
  • Domestic violence and sexual assault counselors and their clients
  • Financial discussions between accountants and their clients
  • Journalistic conversations between reporters and their sources

Specific laws regarding these types of privileged communication and others may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some cases, U.S. federal regulations may apply. For example, data disclosed during healthcare communications is protected by HIPAA regulations. Professionals who unlawfully disclose privileged communications may be subject to civil and criminal penalties, including loss of license.

How Technology Can Affect Communication Legality Issues

The responsibility of professionals to protect their clients’ privileged communication makes it important to choose communications technology that has adequate security. Communications solutions that use the Internet and the cloud, such as VoIP phone services, unified communications as a service (UcaaS), and contact center as a service (CCaaS) platforms may be vulnerable to hacking, requiring security measures to protect confidentiality. In addition, communications in some industries may be subject to industry security and compliance regulations,(4) such as PCI DSS for online payment processing, HIPAA regulations in the healthcare industry, and FISMA regulations for U.S. government contractors. Your choice of communications provider can determine your technological capability to protect privileged communication and remain in compliance with any applicable regulations.

How to Choose a Legally Secure Communications Technology Provider

Doing due diligence is essential for ensuring that your communications technology meets your security requirements. First, you need to know what industry standards and regulations apply to you. Then you need to make sure your provider is capable of meeting these standards by asking them compliance questions(5) to evaluate their security capability:

  • What kinds of security and compliance standards do they advertise on their website?
  • Are they compliant with the standards your business requires?
  • Is their security and compliance capability independently certified by any third parties?
  • Can they provide you with a written agreement for their security and compliance standards?
  • Can they recommend specific configurations for your system to help ensure security and compliance?
  • Do they provide encryption both for data in motion being transmitted and data at rest in storage?

Asking these types of questions can help you find a provider who will deliver the type of security you need to protect your confidential communications.

Conclusion

Your communications technology plays a key role in shielding you from liability for protecting legally sensitive conversations. When it comes to ensuring legal communication, 8x8 provides reliable and compliant cloud solutions at a demanding level rarely seen by other cloud providers. Don't take your chances with a subpar cloud-based telecom system. Call 1-866-879-8647 or fill out an online form(6) to request a no-obligation quote from an 8x8 product specialist.

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