Let’s get the unimportant things out of the way right away. Several people had affairs. That to me has zero news value. And for all the “Why do powerful men cheat more?” headline writers, I suggest taking my Bayesian probability class on Skillshare when I teach it next.
But there are at least two important lessons here: First, we badly, badly need to update the Electronic Communications Privacy act from 1986. This was Senator Leahy's bill and thankfully he has introduced a sensible update earlier this year. Let’s make sure this gets passed and doesn’t somehow fall over objections from those who want to spy on us more easily. As the New Yorker pointed out Petraeus was really the casualty of a kind of friendly fire incident — the ability to access information about and inside an email account without a court order is way too powerful a weapon.
Second, can we please get a CIA head who understands that using a shared draft folder in Gmail is useful only in movies? Google obviously tracks the IP for each access to the account and it is actually *easier* to detect an account that multiple people log in from different IPs than if they had created two separate gmail accounts (as far as I know, email between two gmail accounts does not make any external transit). So let’s please make sure the next CIA head at least knows what TOR is and maybe even a bit about how it works (it did after all originate from research sponsored by the US Naval Research Lab).
If L’Affaire Petraeus results in bringing email and other cloud communications under the proper fourth amendment protection and we get a tech savvy CIA head it will end up being good thing for the US.