On a fairly regular basis, a public scandal occurs, and these days just about every one of them reminds us of how ignorant people are about the transparency of their digital footprints.
If reading about the most recent scandal doesn’t convince you of how easily accessible digital footprints can be, then this November 17, 2012 Washington Post article should. In The FBI’s Long Reach Into Digital Lives, reporters Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima describe how easily the FBI gets into an individual’s e-mails and how accessing one account leads to exploring the accounts of other people who have sent or received e-mails.
Interesting Quote from the Post Article
Investigators with a warrant to search a house for drugs can seize evidence of another crime… But the warrant does not allow them to barge into the house next door… But what are the comparable boundaries online? Does a warrant to search an e-mail account expose the communications of anyone who exchanged messages with the target?
Scandals arising from common digital mistakes can provide opportunities for adults and children to participate in family conversations, learning more about their online and networked world. However, if you do not want to talk about the scandal, that’s fine — talk about the lack of privacy that everyone experiences today. Children who make mistakes have no protection as they explore the digital world, because what they do can easily become public and embarrassing. In any past era their common and developmentally appropriate errors would mostly remain private, but with today’s speedy and electronic communication tools, that’s less and less likely.
We are not trying to scare children, but we are trying hard to make common sense second nature.
During the past week as non-stop coverage of the Petraeus e-mail investigation progressed, I taught a final lesson in my fifth grade fall digital citizenship unit. In each class we reviewed the concepts from the past lessons, and I assigned a poster project (see the poster above to get a sense of what my students do). Interestingly, in each of the sessions more than one student brought up the scandal as an example of people who do not understand digital footprints. While my students were correct, I tiptoed around the scandal discussion in class because of all the other issues involved.
However, I would have had little difficulty discussing it at home with my child, pointing out that it is not difficult to discover the source of an e-mail or text or tweet or digital picture. I would talk about privacy and the need for everyone, ourselves included, to avoid mistakes and think ahead of time about the digital dossiers we are creating. A metaphor that I often use is the ice rink just before the Zamboni comes out to re-melt the ice.
The ice is covered by blade lines and circles crisscrossing back and forth and intersecting with one another over and over — before the Zamboni glides around obliterating them. Our digital footprints look just like the ice rink, connecting all of us in every direction as we skate around and around the digital rink (oops, highway).
Unfortunately, when it comes to our digital dossiers, no Zamboni machine is available to permanently erase our Internet prints
Articles on Digital Privacy
- 5 Gmail Lessons from the David Petraeus Affair – Politico
- If You Want Privacy Don’t Count on E-mail – Nolo.com
- E-mail Privacy: What You Need to Know – CNet’s Brian Cooley on CBS News
- Petraeus Scandal Raises Concerns About Privacy – NPR
- When Will Our E-mail Betray Us? An E-mail Primer – Electronic Frontier Foundation
- The End of Privacy – An NPR reporter Martin Kaste explores, “the giant pool of personal data we’re creating and privacy in the digital age.”