Personal information has become a gateway drug for business

We treat commerce as some sort of separate entity today, but it is quite simply one element of the integrated society we have built. Money is nothing more than a promise, a contract between people. It only works if we all have trust in the system. Money was created as a way of allowing people to trade goods and services in a consistent way.

Money only works if we all accept it as having value, if we lose trust in money they we all need to start carrying around purses with precious metals and shiny objects, that we could use to negotiate for goods and services.

Decades ago we moved away from using coins and notes to using numbers, but initially we had to have a copy of the numbers on our person to share with those we were trading (credit cards, checks etc).

Now all we have to do is give someone our numbers and they can suck money from our bank accounts or credit cards for us to pay later, or implement more complex contracts such as loans or major purchases. Your employer pays you the same way, numbered accounts in numbers locations is all that is needed to move money around.

Numbers are easy. You go into a restaurant and they suck money out of your credit card account. You take a taxi and the same happens. It’s very easy to move money around.

But what happens when the system breaks? What happens when a criminal gets hold of your numbers. They go to CVS and swipe a copy of your credit card, who checks? What happens when the disillusioned minimum wage worker at a fast food restaurant scans your card when they take your order and sells your information. And what happens when the bank doesn’t have enough security around your personal and private numbers, and they are stolen? What happens when one of the largest consumer credit reporting agencies, which has been collecting vast amounts of your personal and private data, loses it?

Quite simply we rely on a small series of numbers as our personal identity. These numbers are published in public documents, as well as being collected by many different organizations. And we have almost no control over how they are published, stored or used.

Theft of these numbers, our identities can take place across political boundaries, meaning it’s next to impossible to bring criminals down.

When someone collects and stores our personal information, they are taking on a responsibility to each person whose information they collect. If by their actions or inactions, that information reaches a criminal who steals from us, they have an absolute responsibility for the loss.

If a person dies because a car manufacturer installed brakes incorrectly, they are responsible. If a drug company creates a treatment with an adverse effect that wasn’t fully understood, they are responsible. And if you suffer a loss because a bank, a financial institution or a vendor failed to protect their copy of your personal data they should be directly responsible for the loss, and for repairing any damage it causes.

The law must reflect the importance we all place on personal data. Today it does not. There are some “soft” laws that describe how data must be protected, but when a business fails to implement these rules effectively the legal response is almost imperceptible. Let people know you screwed up, and maybe offer them a service to monitor their finances for a period of time, and then it’s business as usual.

Most of the world uses a Chip and pin credit card system. Where you have to both have a physical credit card and know a secret pin number to complete an in-store transaction. And nearly every county in the world mandates that that transaction must be entirely performed by the purchaser. In the US, this is not the case, we have a chip in our credit cards, but no pin number. And virtually every restaurant in the US uses a system where the waiter takes your credit card off of you and takes it to a machine out of your sight. These weaknesses lead to thefts that the rest of the world have already solved.

The US also relies on a social security number as the sole piece of personal data needed to prove your identity. Nowhere else in the world is this considered an acceptable practice.

Why is the US so weak in identify protection? Because the banks and vendors are not held responsible for loss, it’s normally left up to the consumer. If the bank makes a loss, they hike up their rates to cover it, the consumer pays.

We need a solid legal framework to protect the whole system, and that probably means much more infrastructure than a piece of paper issued to every citizen and legal immigrant when they are kids or first get the right to work, with a single nine digit number on it.

It’s time for the law to catch up with the requirement. And this means strict regulations and draconian penalties for non-compliance.

Today we have the technology to encrypt data, capture and use biometrics, spot fraudulent access using advanced artificial intelligence, communicate directly to everyone, anywhere, anytime and validate any number of ways.

But do we have the collective will to change a system that’s working quite well for banks, who have become addicted to social security numbers, credit scores, and acceptable losses without penalty?


Guns are fun, Mad people are interesting, Just not so sure they should be mixed.

Like all boys and men (I suspect) I have a fascination with weapons and fighting. War movies are good, but zombie movies with guns and axes are often a lot better.

There is something very exciting about playing with weapons; it’s probably an evolutionary survival of the fittest thing. The apes that were better at whacking other apes over the head were more likely to procreate and so those genes have become a part of us.

Well the modern form of having the bigger stick to threaten other with is still something we all desire deep down.

But along with the genes that favor violence, we have also inherited those that allow for rational thought. And when we think about violence, we tend to also think about the possibility of us being hit over the head with an even bigger stick, and that doesn’t seem all that appealing.

In fact the more that you think about it, the clearer it becomes that not everyone can manage their anger, and maybe there are some very good reasons to limit “big stick” availability.

I used to belong to a gun club when I was at university. We fired a range of target rifles and handguns. I wasn’t bad at it, and played in a couple of friendly competitions. The care by which we handled this weapons was probably excessive, pre-training before firing was mandatory, the weapons was stored in very robust safes, and the rounds of ammunition was audited, and there were zero accidents.

A few years later a crazy lunatic in a small town in Scotland, took one of his (legally owned) handguns into a children’s school and shot and killed a multitude of innocent victims. There was an investigation into this nutcase, and while the results of the investigation were slapped with a government secrecy order of a hundred years, action was taken to ensure that this kind of thing would be drastically limited in the future. I suspect that someone very high up in the incumbent government of the time was in someway culpable, hence the secrecy, and the drastic response. But all guns in the UK were taken from the general public. There are now no legally held handguns in the UK by the civilian population, and very restrictive controls on hunting weapons. So quite simply anyone with a gun is going to find the response from the highly trained armed police unit’s rather immediate and unequivocal.

I believe this response to a terrible crime was a little excessive, but it was a response, and the results in terms of weapon-based crime have shown it was effective (some may debate this).

Quite simply there needs to be very strong controls on the access of dangerous weapons by crazed people, no loopholes.

It’s pointless to restrict access to weapons through some legal means but not others, and it’s pointless to stop access to legal weapons when huge numbers of illegal weapons are in circulation if you don’t also control the access to ammunition.

If I wanted to get a gun today (I don’t, this is hypothetical), I know that just by travelling for an hour in any direction I can find an illegal weapon and stock up with legally purchased ammunition at any Wal-Mart store. I know that to avoid waiting periods for legal weapons I could visit a gun show or buy a weapon that has been made unusable, and just by visiting the Internet get information on how to make it usable again. I’m sure there are even more ways, but that’s enough.

The point is crazy people can and do have access to lethal weapons, and that is just nuts.

It’s actually quite easy to limit the access to ammunition, put in place much stricter controls on weak minds, and force people to be much more responsible with the weapons they do own.

The concept that people can carry loaded weapons around in their cars or on their person, for “personal protection” is dangerous. It takes training both physical and mental to be able to use a weapon effectively, and even those who receive regular training find in very hard to be affective in the heat of a confrontation.

The chance of a trained person with a weapon being effective in an unexpected confrontation is very small. More people are likely to be hurt, the more weapons that are in play during a confrontation. And the level of training seems to have very little impact on the outcome.

What does seem to have an impact is the mindset of the participants. If a crazy person takes a gun to a location with the intent of hurting or killing someone then they are mentally prepared for the fight. They may have taken hours, days or weeks to mentally prepare, thinking through what they are going to do. While if you witness a crazy person start to shoot, you are not physically and mentally prepared. And the chemicals released in your body and mind at that moment are not designed to prepare you for rational decision-making. Even the best trained police officer or soldier will confirm how difficult it is to take control of a situation that you were not prepared for. The best can do it, but it takes incredible fortitude and decades of work to get to that point.

The average person who enjoys weaponry is not a professional, they (like all of us) are generally rational and love the machismo fostered in movies, books and computer games. The average person who would carry a concealed weapon into a public place is much more of a danger to themselves and those around them, than any weak minded lunatic with psychotic tendencies.

I like guns, I really do. But I realize that it’s better that as few people as possible take them out in public, own them or use them.

I recognize the fun element, and I recognize the power of them in the hands of soldiers, and the police. But I also recognize that I would do a lot of careful checking on exactly who has them and how they get ammunition, if it will save just one persons son, daughter, husband or wife.

And there are many people being killed by many guns every day.



Illegal or Just “Frowned Upon” ?

I was re-watching the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever this week and after thinking about it, I got a bit angry about legality, polite convention and political correctness.

A few thoughts/questions to ponder came to mind:

-Is it illegal (or just frowned upon) to use your neighbor’s cable and wi-fi if it’s readily accessible in your apartment?

-Is it illegal (or just frowned upon) to quietly detach (and keep) a $20 bill stuck to a vision-impaired adult’s shoe?

-Is it illegal (or just frowned upon) to reverse your college floormate’s peephole and organize “Cinéma Vérité” viewing parties in the hall when his girlfriend visits during the day?

-Is it illegal (or just frowned upon) to loudly pass gas while immediately adjacent to law enforcement?

Clearly these are all “6 to one, half a dozen to the other” scenarios, right?  Of course.

Why am I angry?  Because in “The Hangover” they all automatically dismissed and persecuted Alan for expressing his perfectly valid thoughts on whether card counting (and masterbating on airplanes for that matter), are illegal or just “frowned upon.”

It’s incredibly unjust for today’s “nanny state” citizens to force their radically “polite” views on others!

Judge not, lest ye be judged!

Lippman: It’s come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct? George:Was that wrong?

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