5 Gmail lessons from Petraeus affair

It’s become the email equivalent of separating church and state: work email is for official communications while private accounts are for personal — and sometimes inappropriate — messaging.

But as the scandal that has enveloped former CIA director David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen has shown, Gmail and other Web-based email services are not completely safe zones.

The FBI probe into Petraeus — which led to his resignation last Friday — serves as a reminder that even the most private emails sent on commercial online services among people using pseudonyms can be discovered and thrown into the harsh light of scrutiny.

Here are Gmail lessons to be learned from the Petraeus affair:

1. It’s not anonymous.

Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell apparently took steps to protect their communication, such as using pseudonyms to set up an online service account and in communicating with each other. But FBI investigators were able to figure out some information about the account from looking at emails sent from the account to another party. Reportedly this is what led authorities investigating threatening emails to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley from Broadwell.

“Who you are saying it to and where you are saying it from has the least protection under the law,” said Chris Soghoian, principal technologist at the ACLU. “A warrant is needed to find out what you are saying.”

Internet service providers and most websites keep complete records of the Internet Protocol addresses of those who use their services for 18 months, and then slightly blurred records of IP addresses after 18 months. Investigators can obtain that information under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act as long as they have reasonable grounds to believe that it is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation — less than the probable cause needed to secure a warrant. In the Petraeus case, the FBI reportedly got the necessary court clearances.

The only way that people can use pseudonymous webmail accounts safely is via an anonymizing service like Tor, said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Tor is installed on a computer and reroutes website visits, instant messages and other communications to other Tor users so it is not possible to identify a single computer, sort of like hiding in a crowd.

2. Government requests for access are increasing and Google and other services play ball.

Google reported Tuesday that law enforcement and courts in the United States made nearly 8,000 requests for user information in the first half of 2012 from all of Google’s products — including Gmail, search, Google Docs, etc. The number of requests from the American law enforcement alone jumped 26 percent from the previous six months, when 6,321 requests were made.

Government officials wanted information on 16,281 accounts, Google said, and Google complied roughly 90 percent of the time.

The report shows governments around the world not only wanted more data for law enforcement purposes but also increased requests to Google to remove content.. “Government surveillance is on the rise,” Dorothy Chou, a senior policy analyst at Google, wrote in a blog post announcing the report.

3. You’re not in cyberspace.

A person’s physical location when sending an email can often be pinpointed from the email they send. Email metadata contains IP addresses of the computers and servers they come in contact with, as well as the unique number associated with the device that sent the emails. Sometimes, the traceable IP of the sender’s device is visible in a sent email — email services such as Yahoo and others reveal information about the sending computer, while messages sent from Gmail’s Web interface do not reveal the information about the sending computer, privacy experts say. Even if it isn’t visible, investigators can obtain it with the use of a subpoena or court order, and determine other accounts accessed from the same location.

In the Petraeus case, authorities reportedly used location data in the headers of emails to trace them to Broadwell. Once they pinpointed her as a suspect, FBI investigators were able to obtain a warrant to look at her other email accounts, including the Gmail account she reportedly shared with Petraeus.

4. A draft email folder does not offer magical protection.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Petraeus and Broadwell sometimes communicated by writing messages and storing them in the draft folder of a jointly accessed email account, rather than sending them. The idea is to avoid creating a digital trail of email transmissions, a technique reprtedly used by Al Qaeda operatives to hide traffic but dismissed by one privacy expert as “security folklore.”

The technique doesn’t work because emails kept in the draft folder are sent to service providers’ servers. In fact, they may be more vulnerable. Government may have easier access to the unsent emails, because draft communications might not meet the technical definition of “electronic storage” in ECPA. That would allow access to the communications without a full-blown warrant.

5. Off-record chats can linger — somewhere.

When using instant messaging in Google Talk or Gmail, many users choose to chat “off record,” meaning that nothing said is saved in either person’s Gmail account. But if using a third-party service to access chat, the history may be saved to the users’ computers, Google says. “We can only guarantee that when you go off the record, the chat history is not being automatically saved or made searchable in either person's Gmail account,” the company reports.

But Soghoian said that “Google's off the record isn't bulletproof.”

“If the government sends Google a preservation order” — a stipulation requiring a company to preserve data, even if it’s not yet signed by a judge — “then Google can be forced to retain future records for that account,” he said.

Posted to: News Politico

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Bottom line is, you can

Bottom line is, you can assume that nothing is private on the Internet. Because it's not.

Wake up you Obamaclaus supporters !

The week before the election, I listened to a reporter interview Obama supporters. He asked them if they knew what "Benghazi" was. None knew. That shouldn't surprise me though since they planned to vote for ObamaClaus. It's clever the way the Obama administration and the media have now taken the focus off the REAL story in Benghazi, the MURDER of innocent Americans and the Obama administrations order for the soldiers to stand down to one of a sex scandal. Wake up liberals !!!!!

Oh my. "Wake up liberals !!!!!"

"Wake up liberals !!!!!"

Tip: Sometimes less IS more. One exclamation point is plenty. Too many, and you look like 13-year old, Darla, writing in her diary.


Wake up Conservatives!

See. Much more adult-like; wouldn't you say?

Golfbythecupful: As many

Golfbythecupful: As many grammar mistakes you made in your post,I'd think twice about calling someone childlike. Liberals need shouting at !! So yes, anytime I want them to pay attention I certainly will use multiple !!!!!!!!. It woke you up,didn't it?

Sorry to smack your !!!!!!'s.

Use all the !!!!!!!!!!'s you need to get your point across. They really do make statements sound so much more,'Fer sure, fer sure!' Snicker.

Whenever I want to talk to Conservatives . . .


"Obamaclaus"?? You've been listening to Rush Limbaugh the Loser

What is with "you people" who keep coining new terms with our president's name? Is that as good an intelligent rationale you have? From which "skrool" did you graduate? No wonder you lost the election! Apparently most voters are intelligent since we rejected Republicans (a.k.a. the Stupid Party) and voted for an intelligent president. I never felt more giddy. Ha!Ha!Ha! LOL in your face! You deserve it.

"Apparently most voters are

"Apparently most voters are intelligent since we rejected Republicans" You didn't have enough knowledge about the candidates to call what you did "intelligent". What you voted for was "freebies". Obama voters weren't bright enough to know there is no such thing as "free" when the government gives it to you. Look at the Obama voters in Detroit who said they were voting for Obama because he had a "stash". When asked by the reporter where the "stash" came from, they couldn't answer.They just knew they loved him because he was going to pay their rent and their car payments. LOL Yeah. Google "Obama's stash" and watch the video of the gleeful,and uninformed Obama supporters. THAT'S the level of intelligence that got Obama back in office.

I have only one word:


And you guys blames Bush for

And you guys blames Bush for your lack of privacy? I'd be LOL but it's too sad how ignorant the voting public of this country are.

the voting public heard what they wanted to hear. Obama was

buying votes and now the voting population is going to be disappointed for the next 4 years when he wont produce.

Remember, here is a guy that turned his back on his own guys. He is the leader of all military forces that represent us. When they needed him, he ignored them. He used the time VETS gave him to ponder this video tale.

Will he change his spots? Of course not. Did he close GITMO? Has he done anything to build opportunities and improve the outlook of the country in his first 4 years? What makes you think he will even try in his second 4?

Only if you fall in line with his progressive agenda are you going to receive any kind of benefit from their vote these next 4 years. Expect more of this big brother watching and less freedoms.


You know who started warrantless domestic wiretapping dont you and the Patriot Act? Turn off Faux News before you make up your mind and post fact-less opinions.

When Obama had the

When Obama had the opportunity, he did not eliminate the Patriot Act. In fact, he signed the Patriot Act extension, and even expanded his powers by signing NDAA on 12/31/2011 - which is far worse than even the Patriot Act, as it allows INDEFINITE DETENTION of US citizens for virtually any reason. He also granted himself authority to ASSASSINATE citizens. Let me repeat, ASSASSINATE. Oh, but don't worry, it'll never be used against good folks. LOL. And we still have people blaming Bush? Wake up, this is part of a much larger movement, much bigger than the rudimentary distraction that is D vs. R. They need blind party allegiance to keep your attention diverted. But both parties are, in fact, abominable.


Well I was just pointing out to the poster above who seemed to think Obama was the source of these US government tactics. If the US Govt scares you, you are welcome to move, but I dont think youd like the healthcare the rest of the industrialized countries provide.

Well, Obama is not the

Well, Obama is not the source, he's just making huge strides. I don't believe it's up to government to take care of my health - my health is my personal responsibility. And the healthcare system here is no longer very good, due to regulations, doctors cater more to insurance and pharmaceutical companies than to their patients, and those companies are actually writing the legislation, which is passed by bribing (er, lobbying) the lying, lifetime politicians we elect, laws which place all industrial risk on taxpayers, who eventually bail them out should anything go wrong. Economic fascism is bad. So, yes, I'm looking into moving. But do you know how difficult the US government makes it to move? They tax you no matter where you live on earth.


Well not if you denounce you citizenship they cant.

True. Check out the fees for

True. Check out the fees for denouncing citizenship, though. And the process is more onerous than actually gaining citizenship, lol. They don't want people leaving, someone has to keep paying their bills. Personally, I believe you're not really free... unless you can leave.

President Obama got a freebie!

There's a headline for you - 'President Obama got a freebie!' - in light of all the hot headlines in the news today about 'girlfriends' and 'boyfriends' and 'emails', oh my.

President Obama got my vote, and he didn't pay me a penny for it. Gee, I feel used and so stupid, now. Wow - I wonder how much could I have got had I just held out a little longer, you know, till maybe the poll was closing, say 6:55 P.M. on 11/6?

You're sounding kinda silly you know with all the 'Obama buying votes' stuff. Lesson to learn for ya - YOU folks guy more votes, next time. ha. Wanna be silly? Let's all be silly.

Last line should have read -

"YOU folks 'BUY' more votes, next time. ha. Wanna be silly? Let's all be silly."

6,7, and 8

Use a laptop with a different network card that is only used for specific anonymous communications.

Use on the road from a open router. Lots of them around. (Don't go to the same Mickey D's every day at 4 to make plans.)

Encrypt emails. They can't act on what they can't read.

Basic skills you would think someone with that kind of job would know.

Exactly, and who appointed

Exactly, and who appointed this guy?

Rush says Jump you ask how high

The gas prices are going down, that must be Obama's fault too, right? Wouldnt you put the blame up at West Point for not training him enough?

Text messages via throw-away phone

bought with cash is the closest thing to untraceable that I know of. But don't keep it turned on and carry it all around next to your regular cell phone, On-Star or other traceable electronics, or you may be discovered by correlation of your travels. When you want to ditch it, charge it up, seal it in a jar and toss it in the river or drop it in the mail to Nome. That makes for interesting tracking.

Part of the reason he wasn't accepted by the CIA is that any spook would know all of this and much more. Only a career NSA or CIA type is qualified to serve at the top of these agencies.

Keep Focus

Simply amazes me that society tolerates violent crimes against one another, same sex marriages (That’s right I said it.), explicit sex acts in public but you commit adultery and we are ready to hang you from the tallest tree. With all that’s going on in the world and America, does this really deserve this much attention. Let’s move onto the real priorities the economy, jobless rate and education why are we letting the media draw or attention away from these issues?

good point



You relate people falling in love be it man on man or woman and a woman to violent crimes? How about the Mormans who love more than one woman?

How about the Christians that love more than one woman

but lie about it and pretend they don't? Resulting in kids without support.

Is that better than Mormans?

The Wrong Focus

We have four dead Americans because they were not given the protection they deserved and requested. We have been lied to by THe Ambassador to the UN,the Secretary of State, the CIA Director, the White House Press Secretary,the POTUS, etc. Congress was not notified of events as required by law. The Attorney General hid information to protect Obama's reelection chances. People are trying to duck out of testifying to Congress. The POTUS thinks he can fool the people into believing that he knew nothing about any of this. The major media is trying to divert attention from the issues of Libya toward a sex scandal. With all of this happening which puts our national security at risk we get the wrong focus by the VP. It is about truth not emails.


What about Bush and Cheney's 9/11 testimony that was done not under oath, both had to be together, and nothing was recorded. Doesn't that still worry you? Or the Beirut Barracks Bombing, shouldn't they have had more security? Or only if its a Democrat in the Oval Office is there a conspiracy to cover up?

yeah, but what about....

I see you agree with the cover up theory. Personally, I try not to use others' past bad behavior as justification for current bad behavior. The question before us today is whether there is a cover up; those incidents you cite - while historically important - have no bearing on the current question.

I'm not sure if you are correct about the Obama administration covering up the Libya issue. But I believe it's worth investigating.

So a sudden explosion

is the same as people under attack for 6 hours begging for support?

This whole thing sounds like . . .

This whole thing sounds like drama-queen lives of the 4th graders.

Susie: 'Cindy, I saw that note you sent Billy, you know he's my steady.'

Billy: 'Hope I get to you at the party, Cindy.'

Cindy: 'I didn't send a note to Billy. He's your boyfriend.'

Cindy: 'I'll be looking for you too, Billy.'

Jimmy: 'Hi Cindy; are you Billy's steady girlfriend, now?'

Susie: 'Jimmy, I heard that you think I like Jimmy, now. Who told you that?'

Jimmy: 'Susie, Cindy thinks you don't like Billy any more.'

. . . . . and on and on.

Good grief.

Instead of passing notes, it's emails every 2 minutes, from the lovers and lovelorn. Just like in the old days, there's always someone to intercept the silliness.

Good grief.


If you don't think the FEDS aren't reading your e-mails you live in a fantasy world. We live in a militant state and have lost our freedoms. Thank you Patriot act.

Off subject

The sad truth is that the head of the CIA did not understand the tracability of electronic messages. That is frightening. This is proof enough that he should have resigned not only for a moral lapse but for obvious ignorance. Intellegence chiefs should be made of brighter stuff.

I can't use the 'I' word about Patraeus.

I can't bring myself to use the 'I' word in the same sentence with Patraeus, but I do agree with you that the head of the CIA must be up to date on technological issues, even if it means knowing all there is to know (that's knowable) about something as mundane, these days, as e-mail.

All the scandal stuff aside, he's a good guy and he's served his country well. He does come from a different place - the military side - where he didn't probably have to know so much about . . . gosh, what is it even called? I keep saying 'technology' and I'm sure there's a more accurate name for that whole field we're talking about - cyberspace, etc.

'Brighter stuff' might not be what he's lacking; just the relevant stuff his new 'job' demanded.

Military intelligence is not the same

Military intel is not of the same pedigree as CIA and similar intel activities with rather limitless applications and methods. The mil intel is usually very focused on specific goals and relatively specific targets and methods.

Those of CIA and special areas within FBI, NSA and the like are specially trained in intel over many more years and on a much broader basis. Mil intel is often a collateral career path and is not usually grown over a span 20 to 40 years and more like a career specialist in the intel "arts".

Civilian intel personnel chafe at having a military head thrust upon them for numerous reason, not the least of which is very different pedigrees as well as major differences in management styles.

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