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You've got evidence
When will we learn that digital communication isn't private?

By Tom Keane
November 28, 2010

Are scoundrels and villains just stupider today than they once were?
It used to be that if you were going to commit a crime or merely be a
bit naughty, you'd try to cover your tracks. Getting caught was an
outcome to be avoided. Yet now we put our transgressions on display
for the world to see.

A case in point comes from the campaign of Tim Cahill, state
treasurer and erstwhile independent candidate for governor. In the
waning weeks of the race, stories emerged that campaign staffers had
allegedly traded e-mails about coordinating activities with the
Treasury. If true, that's clearly illegal - public money can't be
used for political campaigns. The attorney general is looking into
the matter and, while I have no idea where things will end up, heads
could roll. All because, instead of having a meeting about it or even
using the telephone, those supposedly involved circulated a bunch of

Pretty dumb. If it's any comfort, though, they're hardly alone.
Football player Brett Favre faces difficult times of his own for
salacious text messages sent to ex-model and New York Jets employee
Jenn Sterger. Ditto golfer Tiger Woods and his own paramours. New
York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino got into trouble for
forwarding racist jokes. Florida Representative Mark Foley resigned
in 2006 after the unearthing of sexually explicit instant messages he
sent a 16-year-old congressional page. The Boeing Corp. ousted CEO
Harry Stonecipher over indiscreet e-mails sent to a fellow executive
that were found on company servers. E-mails by Goldman Sachs
employees seemed to confirm an SEC investigation into investor fraud.
Federal investigators uncovered internal company e-mails showing that
Enron had illegally manipulated California's electricity markets. The
list goes on.

Whether it's e-mailing, texting, Tweeting, blogging, or commenting on
the Web, near-instant digital communications dominate our
professional and personal lives. From one point of view, these new
technologies are just an improvement on old-fashioned talking,
writing, telephoning, and faxing. In truth, though, they are vastly
different. The old ways had some semblance of privacy, oftentimes
because they were legally protected (such as prohibitions against
recording conversations) or because of the limits of technology
(forwarding letters to thousands at once was logistically
complicated). The most striking difference, however, is the
permanence of the new forms of communication. Twenty years ago, if I
sent you a letter with inside information on a stock trade, only you
and I knew about it. If you were smart, you'd destroy the document
and no one would be the wiser.

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