IF ONLY one positive thing comes out of the

Larry Mendte-Alycia Lane

saga, it is that it has been yet-another wake-up call about the dangers of the Internet.

No matter how commonplace it has gotten in our lives, it's still the wild, wild West out there.

Protect your e-mail privacy. Don't e-mail photos to friends that might potentially be misconstrued if they are forwarded. Have a secure, strong password. Change it frequently. Be aware that someone could be snooping, looking for credit-card numbers or other personal information. Don't post anything on MySpace or any other social-networking site that you wouldn't want to see on a billboard somewhere.

I know I'm not saying a thing that hasn't been said before. But every time I log onto Facebook and see another picture of a barely clad woman on a profile, I'm reminded that not everybody gets it.

Too often, we don't think. Or we are lax or take unnecessary chances. On Sunday, I read an Associated Press story about a husband who had risque photos of his wife stored on an iPhone. He accidentally left the phone at a McDonald's restaurant in Fayettville, Ark. The next thing he knew, the photos of his wife had been posted on the Internet, along with her name, address and phone number.

When I read about this incident, my thoughts immediately raced to a friend who also has stored potentially damaging photos on an iPhone. The person did so for a reason. But what if the iPhone got lost or was stolen? The repercussions could be devastating, not to mention career threatening.

One woman who e-mailed me yesterday pointed out that she has pictures of her children on her iPhone that she'd prefer to keep private for safety reasons. What if she misplaces her phone?

Of course, there are safeguards you can use to protect data, but who bothers with those? I don't. Recently I found my own misplaced iPod. Not that there was anything naughty stored on it. It just has some wedding pictures and some vacation shots.

But you get my point. I still wouldn't want pictures of me in a swimsuit posted on the Internet without my approval.

Back to the Lane-Mendte case, Mendte admitted using a keystroke device to obtain Lane's computer password and then hacking into her e-mail hundreds of times over five months.

Lane made national headlines after she e-mailed photos of herself in a bikini to a married friend whose wife intercepted them. Lane insisted that the photos were nothing improper, but, unfortunately for her, the damage to her reputation had already been done. And it didn't help that Mendte was leaking information about her.

For his snooping, a judge sentenced Mendte yesterday to six months of home confinement, three years' probation and 250 hours of community service, and fined him $5,000. Mendte has lost his high-paying, on-air job, as well as his standing in the community.

That's a huge comedown for this Emmy Award-winning newscaster. What a huge but fitting price for him to have to pay!

No doubt, others who aren't as visible as Mendte also are paying high prices for similar Internet issues. Take, for instance, the husband who left his iPhone at McDonald's.

By the way, he's suing the fast-food chain, which is wrong. Sure, whoever posted the photos is a scumbag, but the husband also has to blame himself for his carelessness. *