Former general David Petraeus submitted his resignation as director of the CIA on Nov. 9, citing an extramarital affair.
Last week, former Central Intelligence Agency chief David Petraeus resigned from his position for personal reasons. Namely, the revelation that he had an affair with Paula Broadwell, an American journalist — and his biographer.
“After being married 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Petraeus wrote in official statement to his staff. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.”
The Petraeus scandal — a narrative that has since implicated a Florida socialite, a fellow general and even a New York Times columnist — has captured the American imagination in both the complexity of its narratives and the elevated status of its cast of characters.
Columnists, politicians and average Americans alike have weighed in on the situation. The majority of these figures have condemned Petraeus’ infidelity, defended his professionalism and service — or both.
Yet the Petraeus affair reveals another important lesson — about online privacy. According to USA TODAY, “Broadwell may have thought she had done everything to hide her tracks,” but, “often people make mistakes, leaving their e-emails traceable.”
What’s more, technology often gives the false impression of anonymity, USA TODAY reported: “With cloud services, long e-mail chains, and more storage capabilities, e-mail inboxes and drop boxes can contain thousands of pages of e-mails that users may think are gone but may simply be stored out of sight but within reach of searching authorities, experts said.”
In Broadwell and Petraeus’ case, that meant using an online drop box to hold their correspondence. By placing their e-mails into a shared online folder, Petraeus and Broadwell hoped to avoid “the creation of an e-mail trail that might be easier to trace.”
Though most college students aren’t struggling with Petraeus-level problems — whether that’s defending the free world or hiding a career-ending sex scandal from the country — his miscalculations still reveal an important truth: your digital footprint is traceable, and often not erasable, either.
When contemplating online privacy, many students online consider the importance of securing social media accounts, including Facebook profiles, Twitter handles and other platforms. And while protecting these accounts is important, considering privacy across the Internet — including e-email accounts — is important, too.
The question then becomes, how can you best protect sensitive information in your email account and messages?
The best solution, experts say, is to acknowledge that e-mail is an inherently insecure platform.
“When we talk to businesses about how they use e-mail, we teach users that e-mail isn’t secure and that you shouldn’t use it to receive or send confidential information,” Orlando Scott-Cowley, an e-mail expert, told USA TODAY.
Next time you write an e-mail, think carefully about the kind of information you reveal. Where that information ends up might surprise you.
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