February 18

The most important step

by Jeff Kirsch

In a step-by-step program, how do you know which step is most important?Businessman walking a tightrope

It is fair to suggest that all steps, if outlined, are important. After all, someone took the time to distill and list them out. Regardless, However, one step stands out above all the rest: the first step.

The first step represents the decision to act. The first step leads to change. When it comes to protecting information, the most important step is the decision to protect your own information. 

I recently took a trip to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) to renew my plates. You can always count on waiting at the BMV, and whenever you wait very long you are guaranteed to hear or see something not meant for you. After taking a number, I found a comfortable place between the throngs of people on the bench and waited.

But I don’t like him…

First I overheard a mother and her young daughter discussing the mothers boyfriend and plans for the weekend. When the mother was done, the daughter started crying. Over and over the little girl told her mother she didn’t like him. The mother pleaded with the daughter, “you always have fun with him” and then declared “why are you just now telling me how you feel, how could you do this to me.”  He was in the restroom unaware, but everyone waiting in line watched the situation unfold. A conversation that should be held in private, was shared with about 60 other people. This women could be responsible for protecting your private information, how comfortable does this make you feel?  How much confidence do you place in the adherence to privacy policies given a lack of respect for her own personal information.

Wow, that was uncomfortable

Next the nice grandmother sitting on the other side of me added to the sharing. As the mother and small child got up to join the boyfriend in line, the woman next to me learned over saying “Wow, that was uncomfortable.”  I agreed, and we exchange the typical “isn’t it fun waiting in line.”  After a few minutes of silence, she turned back to me and said “I have been waiting all morning.”  She told me of the three doctor appointments she had, and how long she waited for each one. Then she shared where she had to get to after she was done here. I sighed, and agreed that it is tedious to have to get someplace for an appointment knowing you are going to have to wait longer than the appointment will last. I may have a friendly face, but a face does not reveal who I am. In the end, the information this person gave me probably was more private than the woman and her daughter, yet she exclaimed how personal the previous conversation had been. How often do we reveal more information than is necessary to communicate with people we barely know?

What is my license number?

Probably the most revealing was a man and his son that replaced the mother and daughter. The son was getting his temporary license and sat next to me to complete his paperwork. The son starts filling out the application, then the father asks the son if he has his social security card. Showing his dad how responsible he is, he pulls the card out from the stack of papers and sets it right on top of the application ready to go. A few minutes later the son asks his father “What is my license number?”, to which dad replies “you are applying for one, why do you think we are here.”  The card sat out on the sons lap until he was called up to the counter to complete the process, fifteen minutes later. My first thought after he left was to let him leave before I got on the road. Then I reflected on the fact that his SSN was sitting right there for any person to see, and write down. Can you truly expect the son or father to be able to identify what information is private and should be protected?

Before taking responsibility for others information, we need to be responsible with our own. The one step to taking the first step is to think. When we take the time to think about what we reveal, we go through the same process others would expect us to do with their information. Think the next time you are in a public place, and wonder if someone just like me or worse someone not like me, is listening to what you are saying and taking notes. Could the next time be the one time that leads to an outcome you really don’t want to think about.


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  1. Before we can take Jeff’s 1st step, we need to address the cultural collective conciousness that has established sterotyped perceptions of personal security. Q. Why don’t we have bars on the windows of homes in my neighborhood? A. There is presumtion of a particular set of behaviors of persons frequenting my neighborhood – however I have no concrete reason to believe I will not be robbed at any tiime. There’s also an (erroneous) assumption of behavior among your acquaintenances at the DMV.

    What brings us to such levels of unmerited trust of complete stangers?

    Perchance you’re scratching at a more heinous conspiracy: Have we culturally been mislead by our parent’s “golden rule” and the tenents of our major religions?

    Maybe we should champion a new GOLDEN RULE: “Do unto others before they can do unto you”.

    to be continued…

  2. John – Technology has made things increasingly easier to do that which may have been more time consuming and not as rewarding in the past. The bigger issue is not that we should “Do unto others before they can do unto you”, but that we should understand the consequences of what we reveal knowing there are people out there that will capitalize on our mistakes.

    I think had this been the age of the “golden rule”, your parents would have immediately shushed you and told you it was neither the time nor the place to discuss such things. However, we place so little value on things that are private assuming there is no one around who really cares.

    The important thing is that we take responsibility for ourselves and our privacy before we can be entrusted with another persons privacy.


  3. “Maybe we should champion a new GOLDEN RULE: ‘Do unto others before they can do unto you’. ”

    I think that’s generally referred to as the Bush Doctrine.

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