News broke Friday that CIA Chief David Petraeus was resigning due to an extramarital affair. Oddly enough, the leader of the intelligence gathering agency was brought down by Gmail metadata. Many jokes have been made about the fact that the CIA head fell victim to an incriminating online footprint, but the revelation leads to some very serious questions.
We don’t know the full story, and might never learn it. But one question many are asking is, could this happen to me? The immediate answer is no. Petraeus’ indiscretion came to light after a complaint was made about threatening emails. And the Wall Street Journal has now reported that the FBI agent who launched the investigation was barred from the case after superiors were concerned he may have become obsessive. According to sources in the report, the agent sent a shirtless picture of himself to the woman who issued the complaint, Jill Kelley.Cato's Julian Sanchez who joined me in a HuffPost Live discussion on this topic, later tweeted this about the new developments.
Actually scandalous: FBI massively invaded digital privacy over e-mails they now acknowledge were non-criminal b/c an agent had a crush
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) November 13, 2012
So while the FBI’s actions in this case may have never come about had it not been due to personal relationships playing a role, observers are already registering their concerns surrounding civil liberties and our growing surveillance state. As Wired’s Kim Zetter reported, “Broadwell will now become part of the statistics that Gmail reports in its next semi-annual transparency report on government data requests.”
The Google report reveals how many government requests they receive for user data, but the company doesn’t specify how many of these requests come with a warrant. And Google is hardly the only website on the receiving end. Twitter has also begun releasing a Transparency Report. But the impetus here lies on the private companies. The government itself is not required to disclose this information.
There are real world implications for journalists, their sources, and average internet users alike. Laws to safeguard our privacy and warrant requirements for online communications are muddled and outdated. The FBI’s actions here highlight the need for debate.
So where did Petraeus and Broadwell go wrong, and how can you avoid doing the same? Watch the video above to learn secret techniques obviously not understood by the former CIA head... like using the delete button.