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Should President Carter Use Fax Instead?

March 31, 2014

 By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Former United States president Jimmy Carter doesn’t trust that his email is secure. If a former leader of the free world has lost faith in his ability to maintain email communications security, what does that say about our own communications security?

Recently, former President Jimmy Carter told the Associated Press (News - Alert) that he sends handwritten notes to foreign dignitaries and even some officials for fear that if he sent them via email they would be read by the National Security Administration (NSA).

“I don't think there's any doubt now that the NSA or other agencies monitor or record almost every telephone call made in the United States, including cellphones, and I presume email as well," Carter told the Associated Press. "We've gone a long way down the road of violating Americans' basic civil rights, as far as privacy is concerned."

Carter, who has always been concerned about privacy issues and helped set up the laws that required U.S. intelligence agencies to get a federal judge to approve monitoring of U.S. citizen, said he stopped using email for sensitive communications several years ago.

“For the last two or three years, when I want to write a highly personal letter to a foreign leader, or even some American leaders, I hand-write it and mail it, because I feel that my telephone calls and my email are being monitored, and there are some things I just don't want anybody to know except me and my wife,” Carter said.

This admission highlights the increasing concern about whether email communications really are secure. There’s not just the NSA to worry about, but also cyber terrorism from hackers and foreign governments. We take for granted that our communications are secure for the most part, but the reality is that most of us live with a false sense of security.

Email can be secured with encryption, but rarely is it actually secured in practice. That’s because sending secure email is not easy even for the techies among us.

While going back to snail mail for communications might be a bridge too far for most of us, it might be worth our while to consider using a slightly older “instant” communications method that does allow us to easily send secure messages: fax.

Specifically, fax-over-IP (FoIP), which sends faxes digitally in much the same way that calls now use voice-over-IP (VoIP). Using FoIP solutions such as those offered by FaxSIPit, businesses can send secure faxes using the same encryption that banks use to process credit card data. Even the NSA can’t break it, and in fact NSA leaker Edward Snowden has commented in the past that encryption of the type used in FoIP is one of the only ways to ensure private communication.

While we don’t need to go as far as Carter to secure our communication, it might be wise to reconsider the ways we transmit sensitive information. Email can be secure, but usually it isn’t. Fax is a much easier method.

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