Email Hacking, And You And I

You and I aren't likely to be the victim of an "email hack job" (my phrase). Yes, the KGB hasn't existed (we are told) since the 1990's. But assuming it's the KGB that's doing the dirty deed to our public figures, as is the conventional wisdom, you and I simply aren't important enough to them.

If we're going to be hacked - if that's really the word for it - our emails will be intercepted by jilted loved ones, with whom in better days we may have shared our passwords, or our employers who told us on Day One of our employment that the company's email system belonged to them and we waived any privacy, period. So much so that a New York court, when addressing a lawsuit against a hospital by a famous surgeon, actually held that when the doctor emailed his own lawyer in confidential, privileged, emails about strategy in his suit against the hospital, his emails weren't protected because they were sent from work. One can question why the surgeon used his work account . . . but that's not the topic of this article.

The lesson to be derived from the leaked (by who?) disclosure of Colin Powell's emails presents a far greater issue for all of us. For they showed that one of the most revered figures of our time, although no longer in government service, was not only vulnerable to the hacking, but that in his private communications he was as gossipy as the rest of us - taking shots at both Clinton and Trump in the manner of a virtual, one-man, focus group - Trump as a "national disgrace" and Clinton as one with "unbridled ambition" and "not transformational." Not to mention her husband's continuing - how shall I put it? It's ironic, indeed, given that it's Hillary that is under the gun for having used a non-secure account to conduct business while she was Secretary of State.

When you look at the things Powell said in email, it kind of says something: that human beings are human beings - even those of Powell's stature. But it also shows us that it is remarkably easy for mischief to be perpetrated when we are indiscreet. Email and texting are so prevalent today that we are (for better or worse) able to learn in haec verba what others actually think or thought, with no holds barred. Even if they intended those communications to be private.

So The New York Times last Friday, in a front page story titled "Concern Over Colin Powell's Hacked Emails Becomes a Fear of Being Next," tells us how public figures are dealing with the fear of being hacked. The interviews, naturally, were with "big shots" - politicians, news anchors and others legitimately fearful of being next in the line of fire.

But what about the rest of us? OK, our emails (probably) won't end up on the front page of The Times. And since we are not going to change human nature, it is likely useless to suggest that we become more discreet and measured about what we say about friends and colleagues, and non-friends and non-colleagues. Let's face it, people have been saying rotten things about others since the dawn of time. It's beyond my pay grade - and would be extremely hypocritical - for me, in particular, to encourage the next guy to be "a better person." (I imagine my friends laughing).

So let's look at hacking, given the people we are. I have often advocated (but have not always followed) a rule of waiting 6 hours (or whatever) before hitting "send." And maybe that works for some - that by waiting, the angst, anger or snide comment will have faded, and simply hitting "delete" will do the job. But maybe the better answer is to simply change our mindset altogether - to go retro, as it were. Maybe the answer is to simply return to a time when if we had something rotten to say, we actually (and not virtually) "said" it. Yes, our phone bills might be a little higher; but maybe by the time the person called answers the phone or calls back, the "need" to say it will have disappeared. Or maybe, saying "it" to a real person, rather than having it exist forever in cyberspace with no way to gauge a reaction, will temper our comments or our tone. All of this toward a personal decision to use emails or texts when there is a real need for it and not as a substitute for personal conversation. Yes, a real need for it!

And maybe, yes, the Snowdens of the world don't deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor. But maybe they do deserve our thanks for holding a mirror up to us, and our willingness to engage in gossipy, and perhaps self-destructive, behavior.