Money Matters: The securities business and the business of security

George W. Karpus, The Daily Record Newswire

I’ve been in the securities business for some time. Ironically, there was a time when I thought it might be better called “the insecurities business.”

As a wealth manager, trust is the foundation of my business – trust, confidentiality and privacy. The information I gather in order to help guide clients through financial decisions will be held in strictest confidence. There are operations policies, security systems and firewalls intended to help provide a sense of security.

But lately, I’ve been pondering a different kind of security. Have you given any thought to how much freedom and personal privacy we Americans have willingly forfeited in the name of security?
Yes, I understand the need to protect the nation from those who wish to usurp our way of life, and we’ve all learned to live with the inconvenience of the Transportation Security Administration. Yet it’s the more subtle and silent erosion of our personal privacy that concerns me.

Recently I read an essay about why going cashless is good for banks, but not necessarily good for consumers. Shawndra Hill, a Wharton operations and information management professor, noted that “privacy concerns over banks’ or retailers’ ability to obtain purchase or personal information is one of the main reasons that consumers are resistant to going cashless. Many people … do not want to have every move documented.”

Nevertheless, for many people the convenience of going cashless, like using smartphones for direct purchases, trumps the need for privacy. Banks and credit card companies capitalize on this perceived convenience. Less foot traffic to banks means less staff to pay, and some banks even penalize you for making in-person transactions by imposing a teller fee.

Of course, people who venture online relinquish their privacy. Online behavior is tracked so that ads fit profiles. Now credit card companies are developing a technology that monitors card transactions in brick-and-mortar stores so that they can target users online. Swipe a card at a fast food chain and expect a fitness club ad to pop up on a website.

Google’s company credo used to be “Do no evil.” But today, it tracks IP addresses, stores every search people make, and is guilty of some serious privacy breaches.

Last year, a privacy official in Germany confiscated the vehicle hard drives from Google’s “Street View” program. In addition to taking 360-degree photos of houses, they were downloading sensitive data, including emails and passwords from open WiFi networks.

Then there is the under-construction Utah Data Center, more formally known as the First Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative Data Center. It will have 1 million square feet of more technology and data storage than one can begin to imagine, and the exact purpose of it is still not clear.

But many people continue to brush these issues off with, “I have nothing to hide, so why should I care?”

Daniel J. Solove, research professor of law at George Washington University, addresses this in his book “Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security.” He notes that the “nothing to hide argument” stems from a faulty premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. Yet surveillance can inhibit such lawful activities as free speech, free association and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of security versus privacy, remember that better informed people can make better choices to protect their privacy. For starters, there is a search engine that uses Google technology, but does not record an IP address or keep any records of searches. And there are free applications to block those unwanted and intrusive Web ads.

We have the right to conduct research and protect our privacy. Let’s exercise it.

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Judith McGee is the chairwoman and CEO of McGee Wealth Management Inc., an independent registered investment adviser. She is a co-branch manager of, and offers securities through, Raymond James Financial Services Inc. in Portland. Contact her at 503-597-2222 or judith@mcgeewm.com. Information herein is from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed.

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