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Sir John Sawers; Social Media Privacy and Personal Security

Privacy issues and identity theft in social media are a growing concern. Most people who post their personal information about themselves do not recognize the potential consequences of their actions, or maybe they simply don’t care if their entire life is an open book.

Ask yourself, should the director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which is responsible for providing national security intelligence to senior U.S. policymakers, including the President, and who manages the operations, personnel, and budget of the CIA, have a Facebook page? Should his wife? Sir John Sawers is the incoming head of MI6, essentially the British equivalent of the CIA. His wife posted sensitive personal information to her Facebook page, including the address of the couple’s London apartment and the locations of their children and Sir John’s parents. She also posted family photos that included her half-brother, who was an associate and researcher for a historian who has been convicted of Holocaust denial. Her Facebook profile was left open to anyone in the London network.

Patrick Mercer, Conservative chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism subcommittee, has pointed out that these types of Facebook postings leave Sir John Sawers open to criticism and potentially, blackmail. “We can’t have the head of MI6 being compromised by having personal details of his life being posted on Facebook,” Mercer told The Times. “As a long-serving diplomat and ambassador, his family have been involved in his line of business for decades. I would have hoped they would have been much more sensitive to potential security compromises like this.”

Would it be okay for U.S. CIA director Leon Panetta or his wife to post their addresses, vacation photos, childrens’ names and other personal data on Facebook? No! Is it okay for you to do it? You say, “Well, I’m not the director of the CIA.” While you may not be a high profile target, you can still be a target on some level, and the more intelligence you make available to potential attackers or criminal hackers, the easier you make it for them to harm you. Nobody ever considers themselves a target until it’s too late. I’m not a paranoid freak, I’m a grounded, down-to-earth, conscious being with an awareness of what’s going on out there. And when I see you post information that someone sinister could use against you, I worry.

If you use social media and regularly update your status or profile with pictures, video, or information about your whereabouts or daily routines, please keep the following advice in mind:

  1. Before you post anything online, think about what a hacker, stalker, employer, or potential employer could do with that data. Could an ex, who’s fighting for custody, use the data against you in court?
  2. Don’t give away specifics. Don’t post your address, date of birth, kids’ names, pets’ names, phone numbers, or any account numbers or financial information of any kind. You really shouldn’t even post childrens’ photos online.
  3. Do not tell the world you are going on vacation! Or if you’re just going to dinner or the beach and won’t be at your house for several hours, why would you let potential burglars know that you’re away?
  4. If you’re a “partier” and like to imbibe, informing the world that you just smoked a joint is not only one of the worst things you could do for your career, it also makes all your friends guilty by association. And don’t announce that you’re hungover, because after the age of 23, you ought to know better.
  5. Before posting pictures or videos, consider what a criminal or potential employer might see. Could they be used against you in any way?
  6. If you let your kids use social media, you must monitor every aspect of their Internet activities. Pick up Family Protection software and take control of your childrens’ Internet use.
  7. Take advantage of privacy settings and lock down your profile, so that only those who you approve can view everything.
  8. Get a credit freeze. Go to and follow the steps for your particular state. This is an absolutely necessary tool to secure your credit. In most cases, it prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. This makes your Social Security number useless to a potential identity thief.
  9. Invest in identity theft protection and prevention. Not all forms of identity theft protection can be prevented, but identity theft protection services can dramatically reduce your risk.

Social media is less than six years old. This is a brand new medium, and we are just now beginning to recognize its potential consequences. Something as harmless as a picture of a baby in a tub could be traded online by pedophiles. The world is changing. Be aware of your social media use, and be smart about it.



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