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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Privacy - the basics

I may write about complicated laws and technology implications, but when it comes to privacy we should always concentrate on the obvious first.

While flying back from the West Coast today, I had a layover in Houston Airport. While sitting there having my lunch, a man at the next table was speaking loudly on his cell phone, explaining to one of his vendors/partners that his company was going to announce the shut down of a project and explaining the details of legal and logistical problems they were facing. His shirt conveyed the name of his company, which was confirmed in the conversation. He said he had just come from a special secret briefing on this. He also stated that the shutdown was the result of adverse PR and potential lawsuits for failure to have the servers delivered and working on time.

I wasn't intentionally eavesdropping. I was bored and sitting there with a lukewarm pizza and not much else to do. Hise voice levels were such that even if I had something better to do, I would have been privy to his life story whether I wanted to or not.

His company could have invested millions in security technology and contingencies. Biometrics and RFIDs could be used to make sure that only the right people pass into the inner sanctums. All e-mails and electronic data could be encrypted with a billion bit encryption. And it wouldn't have made one whit of a difference. I still would have known everything I needed to know to short his company's stock, or write an article announcing these important shutdowns long before his PR department knew what was happening.

And if I, or one of my friends, represented the potential plaintiffs in any legal action, I would have a lead. In law a small lead can make all the difference in the world.

What's the basic point here?

Think before you conduct business, especially confidential business, in public. Use code names and only state essentials if you are forced to make that call over lunch at an airport. Convenience in this case should not outweigh good judgment.

when I've recovered from my jetlag, I'll share a story about a lawyer who blew his case by asking for my advice online.



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