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How Secure Is Your Personal Email?

November 14, 2012, 5:11 PM by Kelly Bartnick

How Secure Is Your Personal Email?

It may seem like a world away, but the downfall of CIA Director David Petraeus sends a message to everyone with an inbox: your personal emails are not as private as you think.

The scandal shows just how easy it is for federal law enforcement agents to examine emails and computer records.

And on Wednesday President Barack Obama spoke publicly about the widening sex scandal. Obama told reporters the best thing the nation can do is trust in the FBI and see how the process unfolds.

“I have no evidence at this point that I have seen, that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had an impact on our national security. Obviously there's an ongoing investigation, I don't want to comment on the specifics of the investigation,” Obama said.

Even if you don't hold a high profile job like Petraeus, the FBI and other investigating agencies routinely gain access to electronic inboxes and information about email accounts offered by Google, Yahoo and other Internet providers.

And what about your everyday communications?

All authorities need is an IP address, which every device on an Internet network has. Once you get that, tracing the email or other communication is simple.

In the Petraeus case, the email account used was a third party one that was not immediate identifiable by the parties in question. But security experts say if you are a computer genius or well-versed in the black-holes of the Internet, tracking down where a dummy email account came from can be done fairly quickly.

We also talked with Attorney General Marty Jackley, who says South Dakotans should not be worried that law enforcement are going through your personal emails. Getting that information usually requires a subpoena. That means state investigators will also meet with the owner of the information archive such as Google, Verizon, and even Facebook.

In most criminal cases the information is quickly turned over when court orders are involved.

The other piece of the puzzle is your employer, who likely keeps a record of all messages and computer activity at work. In some industries, the experts say it's even required.

So the best idea, which is one we've heard time and again, is if you don't want to see the message again, or would be upset or embarrassed if it resurfaced, you shouldn't send it in the first place.

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