Our view: For your eyes only? Think again ...

November 14, 2012 10:39:30 AM



A wise mother once said, "Be careful what you do. Someone is always watching you." It's easy to forget this rule applies to our online activities. 


Last week, we were reminded in a most spectacular fashion that we should exercise every caution in our online communications.  


Indiscreet email messages are at the heart of a scandal involving the CIA Director, the top general in charge of operations in Afghanistan, a Florida socialite and a writer.  


Typically, this is the sort of stuff you might expect to find in a trashy novel you take to the beach for some brainless amusement. 


But it is a very real scandal that has shaken the Washington power structure and our military leadership. 


Emails between the CIA director and the writer implicated the two in extra-marital affairs. Reportedly, in an effort to be more discreet, one would write an email to the other and then leave that message in an online drop box to be received by the other. (Think of the spy movies where a spy leaves a note for his informant wrapped in a newspaper on a cafe table.) This technique skirts email systems, which are relatively easy to monitor. 


Even this extra effort was not enough to keep the damning exchange private. 


All sorts of implications may emerged from this still-unraveling affair, but the lesson at the heart of the matter is that there is no guarantee of privacy when it comes to electronic communications. It doesn't matter how careful you are and it doesn't matter whether you are a NATO general or an office worker forwarding an off-color joke. 


Closer to home, we have seen examples of how Facebook posts can quickly explode into the public arena when one firefighter resigned and another firefighter and two police officers were suspended after an ill-conceived Facebook post. 


Our children have entire social lives online that often leave an enduring trail to an embarrassing past. Is anyone coaching our youth on how to manage their online identities? 


According to a Careerbuilder.com survey from April of this year, 37% of employers research job candidates on social media websites.  


Reckless online posts can haunt us years after they are made. 


Electronic communications of all kinds -- emails, Facebook, Twitter -- may be intended for a small audience. But there is certainly no guarantee of it. 


If there is a lesson for us all in these episodes it is this: Be very careful what you write. You never know who's watching. 


After all, if the director of the CIA can't keep his messages private, who can?