WMBF Investigates: How much privacy do you really have online? - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

WMBF Investigates: How much privacy do you really have online?

(Source: WMBF News) (Source: WMBF News)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Technology advances every day, and with those changes, you may not have as much privacy as you think. Whether that's online or in your day to day life, the law has been slow to catch up with this progress.

In a WMBF News investigation, we talked to an expert at Coastal Carolina University about this idea of cyber privacy, or lack thereof.  He also detailed how this loophole in legislation is actually helping law enforcement.

"I would compare an average email that has not been encrypted to a postcard," said Joseph Fitzanakis, an Assistant Professor of National Security at CCU. "Anyone that is carrying that postcard to its recipient can read what it says because there is no envelope. A typical email is just like that." 

That's where your lack of privacy starts. Third parties, or companies, hold onto copies of everything you send or even save as a draft.

Plus, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even your text messages sent through your cell phone leave you vulnerable.

"It's hard to imagine life today without social media and that, of course, has implications in pretty much everything you do," Fitzanakis said. "No human activity today in developed societies is untouched by social media."

However, the law has been slow to catch up with the digital age.

The Fourth Amendment was meant to protect a citizen's right to privacy, but the cyber world we live in has blurred the lines between what is private and what is not.

"This has been a gray area of the law," Fitzanakis said. "The Department of Justice appears to argue that when you exchange information online, so let's say an email that you send to a friend or colleague, this information is stored online. As a result, that doesn't require a warrant as far as the Department of Justice is concerned." 

More and more law enforcement investigations today include social media accounts, posts, and messages.

Just earlier this year, a Conway man was the focus of an investigation after posts he made on Facebook caught the attention of the FBI

Benjamin McDowell, who authorities said had connections to a white supremacy group, was arrested in Myrtle Beach in February. He reportedly intended to commit an attack in the "spirit of Dylann Roof."

His sentiments about the convicted Charleston church shooter were all spelled out online.

"A lot of these individuals who are planning attacks or allegedly planning attacks or have planned attacks and executed them cannot resist the temptation to share this information with the world using social media," Fitzanakis said.

The true scope of this privacy debate though is most telling in what you'd have to do to fully protect yourself.

Fitzanakis said the battle over your privacy is out of your hands. Instead, it now rages on between private companies and the government.

"I think that these types of issues will become increasingly more mainstream," Fitzanakis said.

But who should win that fight?

"If you were to ask this question today, people may say we don't want the government to intrude too much," Fitzanakis said. "If you were to ask them the day after 9/11, they might give you a very different answer."

Fitzanakis said the only way that you can become truly private is by opting out of basically life as we know it, and that means even cleaning out your wallet and getting rid of your debit and credit cards.

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