December 3, 2007

Politics will not Save Us

Politicians have a vested interest in the security of our personal information. With compromises and data leakage on the rise, there is surely plenty to be astir over. We have even seen states begin passing (more are looking) legislation around the security of consumers. It seems like every time we turn on this news or read a newspaper it is smashed into our psyche: visions of Paul Revere riding that night and screaming, “Hide your data, the Hackers are coming! The Hackers are coming!” Who will save us? The politicians you say? As I wrote, politicians have a vested interest in our security (digital or otherwise). Yet, I think we need to clearly understand why that vested interest exists in the first place.

Simply put, votes. Think about it logically for a moment; who really wants to be that guy that didn’t
vote for the “Security” bill? Who really wants to be the guy, at least in popular media, that is portrayed as the person
who doesn’t care about consumer security? Would you?

So, the politicians will save us. Am I too cynical in thinking, “Yeah, right”?

And cynicism aside, I applaud the effort. I really do. At least it gets the subject
of security into the collective consciousness. Yet, legislating security as an afterthought
is misguided at best.

It is simply asking the wrong question. This is not a problem rooted in merchants
retaining data. Read that sentence again; this is not a problem rooted in merchants
retaining data.
This is a problem rooted in a broken system. Legislating does zero to treat the latter
and falsely appears to do something about the former. Of course, not being one to
lob stones, here’s how I believe the politicians could actually help solve the issue.
Yep, I wrote it- advertising. Instead of spending resources on treating symptoms,
what would happen if resources were spent on adverts that managed down non-compliant
merchants amp; service providers? A Scarlet Letter for 21st century consumer security
perhaps. Can you imagine the public response if TJX had a big, fat, red “A” in their
Sunday fliers?

Note: I am not suggesting that politicians or government police compliance or enforce
security guidelines. Rather, I believe it will be in our collective long-term interest
to allow the free market to police itself. However, I do believe that if our elected
officials do want to have involvement they should focus on advertising awareness to
the general public.