We have done a lot for the safety of our body and our hearts. It never rains but it pours. Just as bosses and boards have finally sorted out their worst accounting and compliance troubles, and improved their feeble corporation governance, a new problem threatens to earn them – especially in America – the sort of nasty headlines that inevitably lead to heads rolling in the executive suite: data insecurity. Left, until now, to odd, low-level IT staff to put right, and seen as a concern only of data-rich industries such as banking, telecoms and air travel, information protection is now high on the boss’s agenda in businesses of every variety.
Several massive leakages of customer and employee data this year – from organizations as diverse as Time Warner, the American defense contractor Science Applications International Corp and even the University of California, Berkeley – have left managers hurriedly peering into their intricate IT systems and business processes in search of potential vulnerabilities.
“Data is becoming an asset which needs to be guarded as much as any other assets, says Haim Mendelson of Stanford University’s business school. “The ability to guard customer data is the key to market value, which the board is responsible for on behalf of shareholders.” Indeed, just as there is the concept of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), perhaps it is time for GASP, Generally Accepted Security Practices, suggested Eli Noam of New York’s Columbia Business School. “Setting the proper investment level for security, redundancy, and recovery is a management issue, not a technical one,” he says.
The mystery is that this should come as a surprise to any boss. Surely it should be obvious to the dimmest executive that trust, that most valuable of economic assets, is easily destroyed and hugely expensive to restore – and that few things are more likely to destroy trust than a company letting sensitive personal data get into the wrong hands.
The current state of affaires may have been encouraged – though not justified – by the lack of legal penalty (in America, but not Europe) for data leakage. Until California recently passed a law, American firms did not have to tell anyone, even the victim, when data went astray. That may change fast: lots of proposed data-security legislation is now doing the rounds in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the theft of information about some 40 million credit-card accounts in America, disclosed on June 17th, overshadowed a hugely important decision a day earlier by America’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that puts corporate America on notice that regulators will act if firms fail to provide adequate data security.
First two hours , now three hours—this is how far in advance authorities are recommending people show up to catch a domestic flight , at least at some major U.S. airports with increasingly massive security lines.
Americans are willing to tolerate time-consuming security procedures in return for increased safety. The crash of Egypt Air Flight 804,which terrorists may have downed over the Mediterranean Sea ,provides another tragic reminder of why. But demanding too much of air travelers or providing too little security in return undermines public support for the process. And it should: Wasted time is a drag on Americans’ economic and private lives, not to mention infuriating.
Last year, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) found in a secret check that undercover investigators were able to sneak weapons—both fake and real—past airport security nearly every time they tried .Enhanced security measures since then, combined with a rise in airline travel due to the improving Chicago’s O’Hare International .It is not yet clear how much more effective airline security has become—but the lines are obvious.
Part of the issue is that the government did not anticipate the steep increase in airline travel , so the TSA is now rushing to get new screeners on the line. Part of the issue is that airports have only so much room for screening lanes. Another factor may be that more people are trying to overpack their carry-on bags to avoid checked-baggage fees, though the airlines strongly dispute this.
There is one step the TSA could take that would not require remodeling airports or rushing to hire: Enroll more people in the PreCheck program. PreCheck is supposed to be a win-win for travelers and the TSA. Passengers who pass a background check are eligible to use expedited screening lanes. This allows the TSA wants to enroll 25 million people in PreCheck.
It has not gotten anywhere close to that, and one big reason is sticker shock. Passengers must pay $85 every five years to process their background checks. Since the beginning, this price tag has been PreCheck’s fatal flaw. Upcoming reforms might bring the price to a more reasonable level. But Congress should look into doing so directly, by helping to finance PreCheck enrollment or to cut costs in other ways.
The TSA cannot continue diverting resources into underused PreCheck lanes while most of the traveling public suffers in unnecessary lines. It is long past time to make the program work.