A confidential letter is one in which the letter writer wants the contents to remain private and the recipient is expected to keep the disclosures and information in the letter a secret. A student applying to an educational institution may ask a previous employer or teacher for a letter of recommendation as part of an application, who in turn may submit a confidential letter of reference. Consumers may submit a confidential letter when filing a complaint against a company they purchased goods or services from. An entrepreneur may give a confidential business letter to another business owner or prospective employee. It can be distinguished from a non-confidential letter because the letter writer often states in the letter itself or on the top of the page that the content is confidential.
Educational institutions are often prohibited by national statutes and laws to share confidential letters of reference submitted on behalf of students. For example, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act passed in the United States in 1974 includes guidelines that require schools to maintain the privacy of a confidential letter and prohibits them from providing a copy to a student who requests it. The letters remain a part of the student’s file, and staff members are not allowed to disclose any part of its contents. Individuals who don’t want to waive their rights to examine the contents of a letter that is included in their school file and is a part of their permanent school records should not decline a confidential letter of reference that the letter write wants to submit on their behalf.
Consumers and employees may file a complaint against companies with government agencies that regulate them. For example, in the United States consumers can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against companies that offer business opportunities that are really scams. If they want to share information with the agency but keep the company being accused from finding out who sent the information, they can submit a confidential letter. One way to ensure that the letter is treated as a legally confidential letter is to write the words privileged and confidential on each page of the letter at the very top. Without any indication that the letter is confidential, the government agency might publish it.
Entrepreneurs may also use a confidential business letter when they want to form joint ventures with other business owners or during the process of recruiting employees. For example, an entrepreneur may offer a salary and benefits package to a prospective employee in the letter but want that information kept secret from the general public. The business owner could have legal recourse against the prospective employee if he or she shared the information after it was clear that the information was privileged and confidential.