By Nicole Perlroth

If David H. Petraeus couldn’t keep his affair from prying eyes as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, then how is the average American to keep a secret?

In the past, a spymaster might have placed a flower pot with a red flag on his balcony or drawn a mark on page 20 of his mistress’s newspaper. Instead, Mr. Petraeus used Gmail. And he got caught.

Granted, most people don’t have the Federal Bureau of Investigation sifting through their personal e-mails, but privacy experts say people grossly underestimate how transparent their digital communications have become.

“What people don’t realize is that hacking and spying went mainstream a decade ago,” said Dan Kaminsky, an Internet security researcher. “They think hacking is some difficult thing. Meanwhile, everyone is reading everyone else’s e-mails — girlfriends are reading boyfriends’, bosses are reading employees’ — because it’s just so easy to do.”

Face it: no matter what you are trying to hide in your e-mail in-box or text message folder — be it an extramarital affair or company trade secrets — it is possible that someone will find out. If it involves criminal activity or litigation, the odds increase because the government has search and subpoena powers that can be used to get any and all information, whether it is stored on your computer or, as is more likely these days, stored in the cloud. And lawyers for the other side in a lawsuit can get reams of documents in court-sanctioned discovery.

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