There are dangers in day-to-day tech usage that many of us, no matter how much we're warned, tend to ignore, or at least forget about. For example, when was the last time you backed up your data? (Yeah, I thought so.) The other is: How careful are you about what you write in your emails?
Because here's the deal: Our email isn't private. Not really. I'm not talking about the NSA or stolen credit card PINs or any of the more nefarious schemes that we've read about in the headlines lately. It's simply that emails -- like other documents -- can be accessed by employers (assuming that you sent them via your company's email system) or subpoenaed by the legal system.
It's not like most of us haven't been told this. For example, at several of the companies I've worked with, the IT department will shoot out occasional reminders that anything happening on the company email system is not considered private.
But despite that, many of us -- probably most of us, although I'm just going on my own suppositions here -- seem to feel that anything sent via email will only be seen by the recipient(s).
The most blatant example of amnesia concerning the privacy of email I've seen recently concerns a developing political scandal coming out of New Jersey. Last September, three lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge -- which connects New Jersey to northern Manhattan, and which has to handle very heavy traffic at the best of times -- were suddenly closed down, causing incredible traffic jams for about a week. Accusations started to fly, including that the lane closings were political payback against the mayor of Fort Lee (the town on the NJ side of the bridge) for not endorsing the current NJ governor, Chris Christie, for re-election.
As in all good political scandals, there have been denials, cross-accusations -- all the back and forth that accompanies this type of story. Most recently, there has been an investigation by the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee -- and some of the evidence includes emails sent from and received by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which administers the bridge. And now, those emails have been made public.
It makes for interesting reading, to say the least. For example, one from an aide to Christie says, rather blatantly, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." And there is a pleasant little exchange in which two politicos gloat over the difficulties that kids were having in getting to school, because the kids were probably the children of opposition voters.
And these embarrassing (to say the least) emails are now out in the open for everyone -- the committee, the media and the public -- to read.
The moral of the story?
If you're planning to do something dirty to somebody, or even to say something particularly nasty about a colleague or rival, think twice before you commit it to pixels. Just because it's not in hardcopy doesn't mean that someday, somebody other than the recipient may not read it.