BURRIS: Your emails are less than private

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Supporters of government intrusion into private lives often like to say, "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what does it matter?"  Usually this question comes up in regard to the government finding out about criminal activities.  But what about our private lives?  Recent events are forcing us to ask, what happens when the government publicizes the private facts it has discovered about us?

Last May the FBI accessed Paula Broadwell's G-mail account, and discovered she was having an affair with CIA director David Petraeus.  Broadwell is a private citizen and she was not engaged in any criminal activity.  So why did her name suddenly become public?  Was it because she was associated with a high government official, and she became "collateral damage?"

Well, ask yourself how many civic leaders, business leaders, social leaders, semi-leaders and sort-of leaders you know socially, professionally or informally.  Does that mean if they become news you would be ok if those off-color e-mails you sent to a co-worker became public?

And by the way, those Petraeus and Broadwell e-mails weren't intercepted by the FBI.  They were turned over by Google.  The bureau simply asked for them, and Google handed them over.  Just like or Comcast or Microsoft or Verizon could do with yours.

And don't think that you don't know anyone important so the government won't be interested in your on-line activities.  Everyone I know, and probably all of you as well, can be connected in four or five links to any high-ranking federal official.  That means almost any of your e-mails has the potential of being part of a federal investigation, and thus becoming public, and your name right along with them.

By now everyone should be aware that e-mails are anything but private.  And given the nature public curiosity, don't be surprised if yours show up on the front page of a newspaper, or lead an evening newscast.


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