My mother was a retired, disabled Army veteran of World War II and Korea. She ran my father’s business and raised two kids. Mom was a loving parent, but brooked little nonsense and even less bad behavior.
To re-enforce this message, Mom would often intone the phrase “be careful what you say and do, you don’t want that on your permanent record.” As a child, I imagined a large book somewhere with all my deeds and misdeeds printed in black type. Who knew the permanent record would some day be electronic and called the Internet?
As I have been watching the rollout of more and more emails from Sony Corporation – several of whose executives are not getting any Christmas presents from clients this year – I am amazed at what people put in emails. Somewhere along the line, everyone should be forced to read their emails before they hit the send button. One last stop before stupidity reigns. But what is now dawning on our friends in Hollywood – and one would hope throughout the country – email is not safe. And nothing, but nothing, goes away on the Internet.
For those of us who have served in the government or in the legal and financial sectors, we have heard time and again from management and lawyers that email records are “discoverable.” They can be subpoenaed for court and your company can read what you put on the firm’s system.
The 21st Century Internet is the modern, permanent record. Information maybe contained on multiple servers around the world. We have mounting problems of leaked information from either insider threats (read: Snowden) or outsider threat (read: North Korean and the like.) So let me once again recite the refrain – the Internet was not meant to be secure. It was meant to freely exchange information. And, also, that to retrofit the Internet with security is expensive, time consuming and often technically awkward.
Thus, people who use the Internet engage in a form of risk management, like it or not. They say, “I will only spend so much on security because I think that will do the security job.” And so they do. And a fair portion of the time it works though most don’t know exactly how much security they are buying.
However, the bad guys of the world are raising the stakes and we, as a society, need to think about what that means. While I am no fan of government regulation, perhaps, it is time to set minimum standards of security for use of the Internet. Still, it is hard from preventing people from saying stupid things.
In the meantime, let me give you another piece of advice from an old spy. Don’t write down anything you can’t “eat” later. A chat in the hallway or a phone call is still a great way of exchanging information. And, please, think about that message next time before you hit send. It could end up on your permanent record.