Burriss on Media: Email

Nov 19, 2012

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  One of the great things about scandals is that we get to laugh at those in power and say, “How could they be so stupid? Even I know better than to try that.” So if the C-I-A director, and his biographer, and an F-B-I agent, and his girlfriend, plus another four-star general, can’t seem to keep their e-mail straight, what hope is there for the rest of us?

So let’s see if can figure out how all these high-powered people messed up so badly, and why, maybe, we aren’t so different after all.

First, anonymous e-mail isn’t. Even if you use an anonymous account, the e-mail still carries meta-data that can yield all sorts of information. And it’s not just the government that can read the data. Anyone with the right software can track your supposedly secret e-mail. And that “anyone” probably includes your teenager.

Of course, all of these officials had to know their government computers are scanned all the time for suspicious activity, so the last place you would want to keep personal secrets is on a government computer.

One old-fashioned trick is for two people to use the same e-mail account, and just leave messages for each other in the drafts folder. Of course, terrorist groups and the mob used to do that, until they found out it didn’t really work.

Now, when you send an e-mail, or post something on a social networking site, you generally expect someone to read it. But do you know where your real secrets are: they are on Google and Yahoo, and any of a dozen other search engines you might use.

You don’t really think those searches are secret, do you? Try this little thought experiment: suppose someone does a search for the words cancer, oncology and radiation. They could be doing a random search, but most likely you’ve just discovered someone with a serious medical condition. Of course 30 years ago if you went to the library and checked out the same kinds of books, the librarian would immediately know about your medical concerns. It’s really no different.

So maybe all of those high-powered people in the news aren’t so special after all. In fact, maybe they are as clueless as the rest of us.

I’m Larry Burriss.