How the authorities to get to your email

It's not that hard for authorities to get to your email


Unless an email sender goes to great pains to cover his or her tracks — using anonymous remailers, for example — it’s fairly trivial for a law enforcement official to obtain a court order and track down the computer used to commit a crime with the help of an Internet service provider. But how could federal investigators link an anonymous email to a suspect without even going to court?

Some Web mail services, including Yahoo and Microsoft's Outlook.com, send user IP addresses across the Web with every email, according to privacy researcher Chris Soghoian, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. IP addresses can be used to track the physical location of a computer user connected to the Internet, sometimes without the help of an Internet service provider.

Broadwell had used a Yahoo account publicly in the past. If she used a new Yahoo account for any of the threatening emails — federal officials told NBC’s Michael Isikoff that she used several accounts to send the emails — agents would have had an easy time gathering a list of IP addresses from the threatening emails Kelley provided to them. But even if Broadwell used another service that doesn't "leak" IP addresses, an FBI agent can obtain such information by subpoenaing those providers.

Some reports suggest Broadwell and Petraeus did take steps to evade cyber-investigators. They apparently used a trick, known to terrorists and teenagers alike, to conceal their email traffic. The Associated Press reported Broadwell and Petraeus composed some emails and instead of transmitting them, left them in a draft folder for each other to read. That avoids creating an email transmission trail, which is easier to trace. It's a technique that al-Qaida terrorists began using several years ago and teenagers in many countries have since adopted.
Comment: my email is so bland, it would bore the FBI to death


  1. More (11/14/12): Fallout From the Petraeus Sex Scandal: How Secret Are Your Emails?

    "Increasingly Google is the source of information for governments worldwide," says The Daily Ticker's Henry Blodget. "The first six months of this year, (there were) 21,000 government requests for information, including 8,000 for private citizen email accounts."
    Breakout's Jeff Macke says those numbers are relatively small compared to the hundreds of millions of people that regularly use gmail, Google's email service. He's not worried about the invasion of privacy so long as Google limits email searches and its investigations are focused and reasonable. Macke, however, is surprised that email users expect anonymity when they go online.
    "On the Internet you leave a footprint every place you go," he notes.


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