Former CIA Director David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell reportedly used a draft email trick well-known to teenagers and terrorists in an attempt to conceal their intimate relationship.
The two would compose draft email messages using a shared Gmail account, reports The Washington Post. Instead of actually sending email to each other, both Petraeus and Broadwell left unsent messages in a draft folder or in an electronic dropbox. The other person could then log into the same account and read the emails there, without creating an actual email trail.
While this may seem new to many, this draft email trick has been used for years by anyone trying to hide illicit relationships and communications, according to the Post.
It is perhaps the well-known nature of the email trick that led to the former top spy's downfall. But as Petreaus faces questions in front of Congress today (about Libya, not about his affair, reports Politico), questions remain about the legality of the FBI's draft-email espionage.
First, as noted by Slate, there are conflicting reports as to whether FBI agents possessed a proper subpoena or search warrant to search Petraeus' email.
But as ABC News points out, a warrant would not necessarily be required in all situations.
In fact, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act allows government agents to examine electronic communications at least six months old if a federal prosecutor signs a subpoena. For more recent communications, however, a federal judge must sign off on a warrant.
Aside from legal questions about the FBI's actions, the Petraeus affair is also a very public example of the proliferation of email surveillance. Even the FDA was accused earlier this year of monitoring employees' private email accounts, allegedly after the workers voiced concerns about potentially dangerous medical devices.
Most private companies, of course, have policies about email privacy and what employees should expect at work. So when you write email or even draft messages on a company-owned computer, be aware that someone may be looking and could potentially use this information against you.
- Lesson from Petraeus: Your emails, and Gmail, aren't that private (Poynter)
- Employers Can Hijack Your LinkedIn Account, Court Rules (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Forget About Facebook, Protect Your Google Plus Privacy (FindLaw's Technologist)