Thursday, September 30, 2004

Column: Privacy Legislation Is Needed, Even If It Hurts

Instead of complaining about the inconvenience of forms, privacy staements and the like, as many columnist have done, Wayne Rash has written a column about the benefits of mandatory privacy. In this column, he recounts his "encounters" with changed brought about due to privacy laws and finds comfort in them:

Wayne Rash: Privacy Legislation Is Needed, Even If It Hurts:

"...What was happening was that the companies I dealt with have made security of my information mandatory, whether I liked it or not. They're doing this because they're required to by a federal law referred to by its acronym HIPAA. The financial community has a similar requirement named after the sponsors of that relevant law, called Sarbanes-Oxley. The bipartisan team knew that protecting the information vital to investors would take more than vague statements in annual reports, and as a result mandated a series of steps that among other things ensured the security of financial data.

Again, the law was requiring companies to take steps in security that they otherwise wouldn't take. The reason, of course, is that financial officers tend to look on security as a cost center and as a result are reluctant to provide necessary funding, explaining why corporate security efforts have been so difficult to put into place. The fact that federal law requires such steps eliminates that problem in areas where it applies.

The fact that the laws result in yet more paperwork for me, or in the requirement to queue up five feet away from the pharmacy counter are minor inconveniences to me, but in reality they are a small part in a much larger plan. I can't overhear the conversations of others. My doctor or my broker can't send information to third parties without my consent. And companies have to safeguard my data.

Most of those steps would never have been taken without laws requiring them. Worse, most people would have viewed security in the same manner as the Blackberry user I sat next to. She could have tilted her screen so I couldn't see, but she obviously didn't think about it. People in general think about security very little. Problem is, some of those who think about it very little really should be thinking about it a lot, but they're not...."

In my view, Wayne Rash is a kind of spokesperson for the many quiet consumers who may not be standing on streetcorners applauding, but are silently appreciative of the efforts that companies are being forced to undertake to protect consumer privacy. And, companies should note, consumers like Wayne Rash vote with their wallets.

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