More and more often, a fresh batch of compromising emails threatens to torpedo a reputation, whether it’s Chris Christie staffers coordinating political retaliation, the swirl of exchanges that sparked the Petraeus scandal, or the embarrassing and costly boasting of former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre.
These are some of the most egregious examples of the havoc that can ensue, but the risks of errant mails aren’t limited to top government offices and Wall Street skyscrapers. Nor are the dangers they pose anything new. Half of computer users “have accidentally sent a sensitive email to the wrong person” and “70 percent of businesses are concerned about sensitive material falling into the wrong hands as a result of data leakage via email.” Before you click that send button again, let’s take a look at what we’re up against, as well as some ways we can protect ourselves.
One of the first things to keep in mind is that email isn’t as private as you might think, especially at work. “Even if your employer doesn’t have an email policy, it still probably has the legal right to read employee email messages sent using its equipment and network,” says attorney and author Lisa Guerin. And, as I’ve mentioned before, emails can be exposed in the course of investigations and trials. They can also be stolen by hackers, such as the recently-jailed Guccifer, whose exploits included posting paintings by George W. Bush, or Christopher Chaney, who’s serving time for hacking the email accounts of stars like Scarlett Johansson and Christina Aguilera. Then there are the major email providers, which often reserve the right to snoop on you in their privacy policies, and the NSA, which can probably intercept your messages.
Gone But Not Necessarily Completely
It’s also important to remember that, even though an email may be long gone from your inbox, that doesn’t mean it’s vanished completely. Those who’ve had their private messages go viral can attest to that. “E-mail, Twitter, texting and the rest all intuitively feel like short fuse ephemeral communications—a quick word in passing, if you will,” explains former British intelligence officer John Bassett in an article on India’s NDTV.com. “Yet as soon as we push the send button, these communications take on an enduring digital permanence that means that in effect they never quite go away.”