We should all know by now that emails can get us into trouble in many ways. Before email we would have responded to a letter by writing a letter in return, taking perhaps a few days or more to consider how to respond. Today we simply hit the reply key, type a response, press send and off we go. While this is certainly more efficient than writing and sending a letter, our words contained in an email are probably less thoughtful and reflective.
I learned a long time ago that it is best to sit on an email overnight before responding to anyone in anger or, even better, not to send it at all. After all, once you send that email you can't take your words away. Once you click, your words are documented for eternity. And as we are quickly learning from the news today, our private words may one day become public news.
The recent issue with Russians hacking into our emails and making these private correspondences public is troubling. The private emails from organizations such as the Democratic National Committee and from individuals such as Colin Powell demonstrate that nothing we write in an email is certain to be protected from public viewing and entertainment.
Russia seems to be trying to influence our presidential election by systematically making public emails from the DNC while ignoring emails from the Republican National Committee. And then last week, upset after being barred from sending some athletes to the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, it is likely that Russian hackers released dozens of medical records of American athletes in an effort to embarrass them with sensitive information, including a list their prescription medications.
In light of all of this, I wonder: Why in the world does the media play along with these hackers and publish emails and other stolen records — especially medical records — that have been illegally obtained? Is the media an accessory to this inappropriate behavior? Aren't people entitled to privacy, especially regarding their medical records?
Is it appropriate that we all read the private email conversations between Secretary Powell and Secretary Condoleezza Rice? Isn't the media violating their privacy by publishing these private emails? Neither Powell nor Rice are running for office. It seems to me that they are entitled to their private conversations and that the media should not publish them, especially considering the source of the hack.
Also, how do we know that the hackers are not manipulating or editing these emails before they are published? How does one defend themselves from this?
It seems that if the media would stop publishing hacked emails or other private documents, the hackers would not have as large an outlet for their illegal work.
While the probable Russian hacks have been entertaining to read, we must all think about what this means regarding our own right to privacy today and in the future. Since so much of our lives and personal business is so easily compromised as more and more of our personal records are online, isn't it time that we take a stand against these public exposures?
If Russian or other agents can obtain emails from Secretary Powell or access medical records from our Olympians, they are likely able to read our emails and have access to our personal records. Where does this end? Will we soon be reading about the results of our neighbor's dental exam or their child's medical records in the local newspaper? Where are the boundaries within a civil society?
Let's stop empowering the hackers.
Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is a professor and program director of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. Email him at email@example.com.