Dispatches from the front
4.2 Million and Counting
Since mid-February, eight large American businesses have announced the theft or loss of about 4.2 million customer or employee personal data records.
What went missing includes credit card, driverís license, Social Security, stock trading and bank account data. This total doesnít count what hasnít yet been reported to date or may never be.
Among those confessing to losses ranging from 1.4 million to 120, 000 files are Time Warner, Ameritrade, Polo Ralph Lauren, Boston College, LexisNexis, DSW Shoe Warehouse, Bank of America and ChoicePoint.
Given the scale of these losses and the rapidly rising rate of such incidences, oneís thoughts donít turn to casual high-school hackers: they turn to organized crime, kleptocracies like Russia, or terrorist financing states like Iran.
We have come to believe that the online transaction environment itself is now under attack, and that the myriad computer system security deficiencies starting with Windows and the infrastructure of the Internet itself -- coupled with lax offline procedures among those entrusted with our personal data -- are now threatening our use of computerized communication in general.
The trend is forcing customers and employees alike to become more educated on the value of their personal information and more vigilant about who is accessing it for what purposes. Such data arenít just virtually valuable, they are actually the victimís money, reputation and time.
Next weíll see the inevitable trial lawyer class action lawsuits claiming gross negligence, reckless disregard, etc., and while weíre no fan of these wealth-redistribution gambits, in this case they may serve to put out the notice that this is serious business.
What should also emerge from these developments are mechanisms that allow the individual to take responsibility for maintaining his or her own personal data files. After all, like any other form of personal property, the best way to conserve and build its value is to allow the individual to own it, with all the rights and responsibilities that ownership implies.