Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chris Lee Resigns After Craigslist Photos Come To Light

From your classmate Ife via the Huffington Post...

Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) announced early Wednesday evening that he will resign his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Buffalo-based station YNN relays a statement from Lee, who has signaled that he will vacate his post immediately:

"It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.
"The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately."
News of Lee's decision to step down comes just hours after it was reported that the married congressman sent shirtless photos of himself to a woman who he connected with on the "Women Seeking Men" section of Craigslist.

HuffPost's Nick Wing reported earlier in the day:

According to Gawker, the 46-year-old married Republican responded to a listing posted last month by a 34-year-old woman looking for "financially & emotionally secure" men who "don't look like toads."
In an email, sent from an account admittedly registered to Lee, someone reportedly replied, claiming to be a 39-year-old, "6ft 190lbs blond/blue," "divorced" "lobbyist."
After a few flirty back-and-forths, the woman told Gawker that Lee sent her a picture of himself, sans shirt.
Asked for comment, Lee's spokesman provided a denial and claimed that the congressman's email account had been hacked.
"The Congressman is happily married," the spokesman told Gawker. "The only time he or his wife posted something online was to sell old furniture when they changed the apartment they keep in DC."

UPDATE: "People cheat everyday, but only dumb people get caught," said the woman who received the half-naked photos. She gave a full interview to on Wednesday night.

Her blunt evaluation comes after receiving flirty emails that used the congressman's name, originated from the email address associated with his Facebook profile (since deleted), and contained photos that clearly seemed to show his face -- and shirtless torso. So much for internet anonymity.

The woman, who works in government, requested to maintain her own anonymity in exchange for the accounts provided to Gawker and TheLoop21. HuffPost spoke with a friend of the woman who confirmed her story about getting the emails and photos after posting a personal ad on Craigslist.

In the interview with, the woman said she figured the story put forward by Lee's spokesman about a hacker was "bullsh*t."

"Dating in D.C. sucks," she summed up. Click here for more.


Dan Nunn said...

I don't know if resignation was necessary (he is my rep at home). However, it's pretty incredible that someone with his resources would do something so obviously flawed.

Also, I don't know how much of a "privacy" issue this is. Nothing was hacked (assuming he's not to be believed), no laws were broken, and he made a bonehead move.

Margot Dale said...

This article proves to me that people really don't fully understand how private the internet is NOT. You would think that as a congressman, Mr. Lee would be aware of the dangers of the internet. Did he really think he wouldn't be caught? The woman is right. He was stupid. People all over the world are doing things even stupider than this, like posting completely nude pictures, posting incriminating statements, etc. Both people who are doing bad things online and people who aren't need to realize how public everything on the internet was. We have learned that everything online is truly just a "bit" and can be perfectly duplicated in an instant. Mr. Lee could have been identified by this woman and the picture of his naked torso could have gone viral less than a minute after he sent it. Everything we do on the internet can come back to haunt us, whether we are responsible for posting it or not. An example that someone used in class was an incident in when they posted something about a teacher on a Facebook group, deleted it, but still proceeded to get in trouble. People all over the world need to learn more about the permanence of online material.

In relation to another issue we have been discussing, it is important to note that this "blonde, 6 ft, divorced lobbyist" met his female friend through Craigslist, not the much-more-popular Facebook. This reminded me of the statement from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg about protecting the dignity of Facebook by not allowing people to create alternate personalities. While it is true that some people act differently depending on who they are interacting with, this form of identity shift is not natural nor appreciated.
Finally, in relation to an article posted on the blog on the 13th of February, I believe that people should be becoming more and more aware about what privacy they actually have on the internet. I have previously commented on the fact that there is a surprisingly (at least to me) large number of people within the government devoted to privacy issues. With such large and important legislations, I think its crazy that people aren't aware of the dangers of the internet (especially someone like Mr. Lee!) However, it is reassuring that internet privacy is becoming more of a talked about issue. While Mr. Lee's problem has less to do with his own right to privacy and more to do with his own stupidity, the growing awareness of the public nature of the internet could save this country from any more embarrassing political scandals in relation to the internet.

Mary T. said...

This article proves how people are beginning to use the internet as a scapegoat. If someone gets caught sending an inappropriate picture or email, he/she can claim "my account was hacked."
On the flip side, maybe Mr. Lee's account was actually hacked, which adds a layer of complexity to the issue. Hopefully, in the future we will be able to determine whether or not an account was actually hacked to prevent people from getting away with wrongdoing or being unjustly penalized.

Margot Annie Dale said...

In response to Mary T's comment, I also believe that this creates very sticky legal situations. Lets say Mr. Lee's account was hacked and information about his private life that would normally force resignation was discovered. Legally, should he be forced to resign? This reminds me of the issues discussed in the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. The amendment states that any evidence obtained illegally must be considered "fruit of the poison tree," and thus must be disregarded in a legal case. So couldn't that be applied to this case, or at least a similar and maybe more severe case regarding internet hacking? Lets pretend that an internet hacker exposed something more serious about the congressman, for example that he doesn't pay taxes (obviously a stupid and unrealistic idea, but just for discussion purposes). The hacker found out through Mr. Lee's online activity that he is breaking the law. The knowledge of Mr. Lee's online actions was discovered illegally, so can it really be used against him?
The complicated part is that maybe the internet hacker is never exposed. Or that maybe nobody really cares that some random person hacked a congressman's account, but rather care more about the dishonorableness of the public official.

Jen said...

I think this issue is important because it has become possible to argue that this is actually an invasion of privacy. I don’t believe many people would argue that the Congressman didn’t actually post those pictures or carry out those conversations, however the fact that he even has the opportunity to claim that someone invaded his privacy leaves the room for many loopholes. There are clearly ways to determine if it was him or not, however, if he argues hard enough he could make a case that someone stole his identity and posted fake pictures of him on Craigslist. Unfortunately the fact that identity theft and invasion of privacy happens so frequently, it can reversely become a common excuse for actions that individuals would otherwise be held completely accountable for. I don’t think ignorance of how the Internet works is an excuse for a public figure to act with zero integrity.

Ana S. said...

I agree with Jen's last statement regarding ignorance of how the Internet works not being an excuse. When you commit an act, as a rational human being you are required to think, deliberate and make a decision. People are responsible for their actions and this responsibility comes from a certain knowledge of the circumstances in which the actions occur. For example, we cannot claim that we broke a law because we did not know it existed. It is our responsibility as a citizen to inform ourselves. The same idea applies to the Internet and its works.
Information is available and easily accessible nowadays and anyone who is interested in finding out new things can do so.

Older generations may not fully understand how the Internet works and how it isn't really private, but they need to learn. All of us, in this class, have taken the responsibility of informing ourselves on issues regarding information privacy and security. Moreover, we have the duty to pass on the knowledge to people who are not aware of the dangers of information sharing in the 21st century. But these people should also constantly learn from the news and other sources of information and use their intellect to make judgements before acting.
This case reminded me of Professor Moran's accounts of legislators on the Capitol describing the Internet as a "bunch of wires". Chris Lee must have been one of them.

Congressman Lee made a mistake that cost him his job and affected his reputation. It was poor judgement and lack of knowledge on his part. He should serve as an example to other people who ignore the power of the Internet. He acted irresponsibly especially because his position entitled him to have some sort of interest and knowledge of current issues. And the Internet, with its social networks is most definitely a current, omnipresent topic.

Ana S. said...

Also, now that Margot brought this up, I am curious to find out about how Mark Zuckerberg plans to stop people create alternate personalities in order to protect Facebook's dignity. Didn't Professor Moran tell us about such an "alternate" personality he created? I'm not sure what Zuckerberg referred to. If any of you have the article with his statement, could you please share it?

Logan said...

A motto I have always been taught while using the internet is to not post anything that you would feel embarrassed if it appeared on the cover of the New York Times or sent to your mother. I think Chris Lee could have learnt that lesson earlier and has learned it now. While there are many things we are all not proud of that could appear on the internet and stay there, for a Representative once the information came out, he was no longer the same person he was voted as. Especially in politics, voters vote for a particular person to represent them and I think it was good for Mr. Lee to resign because he did not have the values the people who voted for him thought he had. I think it will be interesting to see how many more cases there will be in years to come. With my generation using the internet much more and posting more information much more freely, it will be interesting to see what arises from the past about candidates in years to come.

Elizabeth B said...

It continues to baffle me how stupid people can be on the internet. I feel like there are hundreds of examples of politicians being caught for sexual misconduct via the internet. As a politician, they should realize that they are in a position of great power. As Peter Parker’s grandfather said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Politicians have a responsibility to not only their constituents but also more importantly to their families. They should not be going around posting Craigslist ads for sex on the internet.
This article made me think of another article that I read a few months ago. There was a huge scandal when a 17-year-old girl from my hometown “hooked up” with the quarter back for the New York Jets, Mark Sanchez. Here is a link to one of the many articles on it . Eliza (who I was Facebook friends with until she was forced to delete her profile because of this scandal) posted her status exclaiming that Sanchez had texted her. While it was not illegal for this to take place because the age of consent is 16 years old in New York and Connecticut, it did bring upon a great deal of shame to both Sanchez and Eliza. Eliza blatantly misused her Facebook to leak information that would come back to haunt her, just like this politician used Craig’s list. The general population uses the internet so casually with almost no regard for the outcome of their actions. As we can see, all the information that is posted can be used against you and people should be more aware of this fact if they don’t want to ruin their lives.

Maria said...

I find two additional points relevant and interesting:
(1) All posters seem to agree that Mr. Lee should have exercised better judgment, but all the above posters seem to suggest that Mr. Lee should have exercised better judgment ONLINE. The reality, as we rationally know, is that Mr. Lee should have exercised better personal, moral, real-world judgement, if he was to respect his office and his marriage. Previous posters' emphasis on Mr. Lee's need to exercise better judgment online, I think, proves that even we, relatively knowledgeable now about internet privacy and security, succumb, to some extent, to the belief that there is a divide between one's online personna and one's real-life personhood. Mr. Lee's case, of course, proves that this divide is a falsehood. There is a substantive, living, breathing human being behind online personnas. In Mr. Lee's case, the man behind on the flirtatious online interactions, was a married Congressman.

Given that the above posts demonstrate the ease with which we "separate" or differentiate between the online personna and the real person, I wonder to what extent do social networking sites, Craigslist, etc. encourage this divide? I have increasingly seen friends change their Facebook names (i.e., adding letters or dropping letters or even creating new names all together). My friends, in changing their names, seem to think that they will make themselves more difficult to find or, perhaps, avoid association with the content of their Facebook pages or other online personnas all-together. Again, if you want to avoid association with the content of your Facebook page, why are you posting or exposing yourself in such comprising situations in the first place?

(2) Related to internet privacy and security but also somewhat tangential, I find it interesting that the woman's name has not been given. Why not? Not that the woman would face the same sort of public scrutiny as the Congressman--I GUESS we can safely presume she's single and not a member of Congress, but can we know that for sure unless we have her name and identity?--but I do find it interesting that she asked for anonymity. Should she really remain anonymous if her information and details were also posted online? I don't really have an answer to that, but it's interesting food for thought!