From the Publisher: Long Live Security

On the way home from a tour of colleges with my daughter, we decided to stop in Stockbridge, Mass., to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Unfortunately the museum was closed, but after an iced tea on the porch of the famous Red Lion Inn, we wandered in and out of shops around town.

Once a magazine junkie always a magazine junkie. So it was hardly surprising that I was immediately attracted to a shop that sold old magazines. Flipping through covers of famous magazines from the 1950s and 1960s, I came across the June 1965 issue of Look magazine with the following headline on its cover: "Computer Data Banks: Do They Know Too Much About You?"

Submit that writer's name for a Pulitzer Prize...this year!

With all that has happened since the Internet burst onto the scene in 1995, it is easy to forget that personal privacy--and how computer technology has changed the nature of it--has been an issue for the general public for a long time.

Many feel the Internet killed privacy in America. From where I sit, privacy has been dying for quite a while. When was the first time you got a mid-dinner direct-marketing solicitation? I bet it was way before 1995. The fact is, the Internet was just the last spike in privacy's coffin.

Most of us think we do a good job protecting our privacy. Think again. How many times in the past week have you used your credit card to make a purchase, shared your telephone number with some store clerk (I always lie!), extracted money from an ATM or flaunted the big privacy kahuna--your Social Security number--in public?

Need proof your privacy barriers are low? Check the composition of your family's mailbox. Mine is about 60 percent junk mail. And hold on to your hats...the U.S. Postal Service wants to give every home in America an e-mail address! My CIO e-mail address is increasingly congested with junk mail, most of which comes on weekends.

Speaking of government, here's a really scary thought: Congress and the 50 state legislatures are entering the privacy debate. It's only about 35 years too late. And if past is prologue, when government deals with complex issues--and privacy protection certainly counts as one--it tends to come up with sledgehammer solutions when a flyswatter would do.

True privacy in America lasted three weeks after the Pilgrims landed about 50 miles southeast of my office in the 17th century. Yes, privacy is dead. But security isn't.

As CIO, it's your fiduciary responsibility to allocate as much of your budget as you can to building the most secure infrastructure money can buy. Corporate privacy isn't about privacy; it's about security and namely how much your board is willing to invest in it.

Your twofold strategy should be this: Prominently post in plain English--without the legal mumble jumble that reads like the fine print in an automobile commercial--your company's privacy policy on your website, and then do all you can to build a digital fortress around your customers' data.

For centuries, commerce has been built on pylons of trust. Nothing has changed in the era of e-business.

For those readers wanting a privacy utopia I have simple advice. Buy a ranch in Wyoming. With cash. And without telephones or mailboxes.

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