Sunday, June 28, 2015

Your Digital Footprints: An Indelible Electronic Trail

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Regardless of how you may feel politically about Hillary Rodham Clinton, her opinions, politics or candidacy, a recent article in the New York Times exposes some of the dangers which are manifest in our internet (or other electronic) communications and activities. While the article dealt with the political and legal implications of some "newly discovered" emails which Ms. Clinton failed to report to governmental authorities, the events described in the article could just have easily happened to you, me or anybody. Electronic communications contain our digital fingerprints (or, if you prefer, digital footprints) and always leave an indelible electronic trail.

While many of us are already striving to cover our digital fingerprints by regularly destroying or otherwise eradicating our email records (and even the hard drives which facilitated their creation, sending and receipt!), or by curtailing our activities and disclosures on social media, our digital footprints are not only something to be concerned about on our side; they have been transmitted to other parties (even if we have done all that is possible on our side to make them disappear).

This transmittal activity means that your electronic communications, whether sent or received, always leave an indelible electronic trail. With our increasingly dangerous dependency upon email and text messaging in lieu of in-person conversations and written correspondence, the potential for vulnerability and victimization is increasing for every otherwise tech-savvy citizen or subject. Remember that your electronic communications involve multiple parties - not just you!

There is no such thing as digital privacy. An excerpt from the Times article titled "State Department Gets Libya Emails That Clinton Didn't Hand Over," has serious implications for all of us.

The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The State Department said on Thursday that 15 emails sent or received by Hillary Rodham Clinton were missing from records that she has turned over, raising new questions about whether she deleted work-related emails from the private account she used exclusively while in office.

The disclosure appeared to open the door for Republicans on Capitol Hill to get more deeply involved in the issue. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who is running for president, said he planned to send a series of questions to the State Department about the missing emails and about why it allowed her to use the personal account.

Republicans said that the State Department’s statement was likely to increase pressure on the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, to subpoena the server in Mrs. Clinton’s home that housed the account.

Mrs. Clinton has said that she gave the State Department about 50,000 pages of emails that she deemed to be related to her work as secretary of state and deleted roughly the same number. She said the messages she deleted were personal, relating to topics like yoga, family vacations and her mother’s funeral.

Her longtime confidant and adviser Sidney Blumenthal, responding two weeks ago to a subpoena from the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, gave it dozens of emails he had exchanged with Mrs. Clinton when she was in office. Mr. Blumenthal did not work at the State Department at the time, but he routinely provided her with intelligence memos about Libya, some with dubious information, which Mrs. Clinton circulated to her deputies.

State Department officials then crosschecked the emails from Mr. Blumenthal with the ones Mrs. Clinton had handed over and discovered that she had not provided nine of them and portions of six others.

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, who is running for president, said that she had given the State Department “over 55,000 pages of materials,” including “all emails in her possession from Mr. Blumenthal.”

The chairman of the House committee, Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, said that many of the emails that Mrs. Clinton had not handed over showed that “she was soliciting and regularly corresponding with Sidney Blumenthal, who was passing unvetted intelligence information about Libya from a source with a financial interest in the country.”

“It just so happens these emails directly contradict her public statement that the messages from Blumenthal were unsolicited,” he said. Mr. Blumenthal identified the source of his information as Tyler Drumheller, a former high-ranking C.I.A. official, according to a person with knowledge of his testimony to the Benghazi panel. Mr. Drumheller was part of a group that sought to do business in Libya.

Supporters of Mrs. Clinton have argued that the committee’s mission has crept far beyond its original scope: to investigate the Benghazi attacks, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Republican committee members have said that they are within their right to look into her email use because the resolution that created the panel directed them to examine how the administration complied with previous inquiries into the attacks. Mrs. Clinton’s emails relating to the attacks were not handed over to any of the panels conducting those inquiries.

Other panels in Congress may consider investigating the matter. Mr. Graham, who oversees a Senate subcommittee with sway over the State Department’s budget, said that the department “seems to have a system that is not working very well” in regards to its production of documents to Congress.

“I’m going to ask them whether they think Mrs. Clinton has handed over everything she should and what they are going to do about it,” he said. “And if they give me runaround responses, we’ll drag them up on Capitol Hill and make them answer these questions in public.”

While the State Department acknowledged that it did not have several of Mrs. Clinton’s emails, it also told the Benghazi committee that it had not turned over other messages of hers. The department said that it had not done so because the contents of those messages fell outside the requests made by the committee.

“The State Department is working diligently to review and publish the 55,000 pages of emails we received from former Secretary Clinton,” it said in a statement.

That statement is unlikely to satisfy the committee, which believes it has been clear in its requests. Members of the panel have contended that the State Department has withheld documents to protect Mrs. Clinton and grind the investigation to a halt. State Department officials have said that one of the reasons it has taken so long to produce documents is that the department’s record-keeping system is cumbersome. They have also said that the committee has not been specific enough in its requests.

The Takeaway: Every sender, or recipient, as well as all parties copied on all email and social media correspondence can become sources of information, regardless of your attempts to obfuscate, or destroy evidence of communications on your side, by yourself. And as regulatory and legal authorities become increasingly inquisitive about our communications via all electronic media (even our wireless cellphones, with our phone conversations and texts) in waging the war on terrorism, an increasing segment of the populations in each of the respective industrialized nations will become targets -- for better or for worse.

The Global Futurist Solution: If you wish to divulge or impart secret information to a second party, and you are reasonably certain that the party in question has not been bodily rigged to record any audio or video, have a live, in-person chat with that person (assuming , of course that you can be seen and don't necessarily mind being photographed from a distance associating with this second party) in a heavily-populated area. Nobody said that keeping secrets was particularly easy; and the trend is that it will become increasingly difficult.

Thank you, as always, for reading me.

Douglas E. Castle for The Global Futurist Blog

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