After the release of personal emails led to national outrage over CIA chief David Petraeus’ extramarital affair, a deluge of doubt has arisen over the security of email, as well as chats, tweets, likes, posts, video calls, and other forms of internet communication.
Secrets are no longer secrets when today’s technology is involved, necessitating a heightened sense of caution—for the CIA agent or the average college student.
As Petraeus learned, Gmail accounts are vulnerable to government hackers. However, the government can also request private data from email companies. Law enforcement can easily gain access to stored emails as well as trace the user’s IP address.
We are not only vulnerable through email, however. Internet shoppers are in danger of online identity theft, while something as simple as filling out a college application requires providing cyberspace with confidential information like a date of birth or social security number.
Efforts to maintain control are being made. In Europe, strict rules for Facebook have been proposed. According to Tech Crunch, the proposals are aimed at “harmonizing data protection rules across the EU” and giving citizens more control over their personal data, including through “granting people the right to have data… deleted on request… and data ported to another service.”
To safeguard electronic communications such as emails, The New York Times recommends measures from only using personal devices for sensitive communications to “10 Minute Mail”—temporary, self-destructing email accounts.
The only surefire way for Internet users to protect themselves, however, is to place less trust in technology and take more personal responsibility in safeguarding their personal lives online. We have to remember not to treat the cyber world as we would the pages of a diary.
As this year’s scandal, like the Wikileaks drama of two years ago, reminds us, private and public spheres of life overlap more often than not, due largely to how much we channel our private lives through social media, emails and the cyber world. The risk of private information becoming public knowledge may be only a click away.