Friday, March 18, 2011

security blankets

For those of you who follow my postings I am sorry that my work has been weak and infrequent of late. A few months ago I took on a new position that requires more of my attention. And, in the same time frame, additional time had to be given to my parents as well. My father recently died. He lived a long life and was a great man. I did take the time to write a tribute for him. He knew of my blog and I spoke with him once about the style and contents. He politely listened, but he would not have wanted me to deliver homage of him on the web. Hopefully, in due time, I will be able to get back to a routine of more regular rambling.

A member of the IT team where I work vaulted into my office recently to instruct me about making sure my e-mail password was secure. Without hesitation I told him not to worry. I informed him of one of my many odd characteristics, or perhaps character defects. That is, while I may not be able to remember if I’m suppose to pick up apples and bananas or bread and milk, I have a very good ability to create complicated codes of symbols, letters and numbers that I can effortlessly retrieve from my memory banks. As he milled about, checking my PC’s tower and hodgepodge of cables, my mind digressed on how even I was surprised that I recently remembered the combination for a bicycle cable lock I found in my garage after thirty years missing. “And your off-site password too”, he continued. “Yes”, I said, “very complicated”. He exited my office with a sigh of relief and headed straight toward the customer service department with the same line of questioning and palpable anxiety in tow.

Security on the web, in paper trails, and in our personal lives is understandably of great concern. Certainly it would be foolish to avoid taking the many modern day threats in our lives seriously. However, I think that more than a sprinkling of naivety has been mixed in with the hyper focus.

This thought occurred to me on my way to pick up a strawberry-rhubarb pie last week at a shop near a strip mall. It is not terribly uncommon for me to see an automobile donning a cover, when parked for an extended period of time, in the driveway of a meticulous owner’s property. But when parked outside of Old Navy or Stop & Shop, I wonder if the blanket enhances security or makes it a target.

Besides geeks and IT teams, the medical community has a stepped up intent on security to boot. I was reminded of this twice recently. My first encounter wasted about eight phone calls and stripped away nearly eight hours of a work day earlier this month. While attempting to fill a prescription for my mother through a pharmacy, I was told that the coverage had expired and the script could not be filled. Aware that we had just transferred from one plan administrator to another I knew it was simply a system problem. A new id number was issued but we hadn’t yet received it in the mail. So I called the health plan to get the new information. Unnaturally, but expectedly I suppose, I was subjected to spending 20 minutes in the queue before I was told that HIPAA laws prevent me of that privilege. “Yes, but I have power of attorney”, I informed the representative. “Yes, but I don’t have it recorded in the system”, came the retort. I asserted, “I have a copy in my briefcase. Surely, we should be able to transact this by fax or scan within a few minutes, right?” “I can give you our fax number, but it will take one to three business days to process your request”, replied the rep. Feeling defeated, I simply hung up.

But after lunch, I decided on one more try and one more plea. After waiting the obligatory 20 minutes in another IT holding pattern I reached out to another representative and stated my need. I again got the HIPAA response. Not wanting to wait for the mail or a three day process I proposed reason, “instead of specific information, which of course you can’t provide, can you give me any general knowledge which may be of help?” “Well yes”, she thought. “A member’s social security number plus a zero and one will work as an alternate id.” Loving the presence of a back door, I called back the pharmacy and was done in a flash.

A few days later I was back in the medical info arena again. But this time I was there for myself. The medical assistant behind the desk handed me the standard three pages and a clipboard to be completed as it was more than a year since my last visit. Then she continued with a new request. “I need to make a copy of your driver’s license please”, she said in a matter of fact manner. Understanding that my body defaults into freeze mode when asked something that I can’t compute, I said “I can’t do that.” “But we need it for security reasons” she plodded. “Securing what possible occurrence”, I quipped and sensed that the whole waiting room of patients were now curiously waiting for either an intelligent result or a crash and burn. “Sir, we need to scan your license and picture into our system so that someone can’t pose as you for medical reasons!” “Well now I’m definitely not giving you a copy of my license”, I chuckled.

Confused and upset she demanded an answer. “Simple”, I said. “I feel a lot less secure having a copy of my picture and license, along with my already ubiquitous social security number and other identification markers, in your vulnerable to hackers computer system than I do by just keeping it in my wallet.” “Besides”, I now edgily went on, “I think the odds of someone my exact height, weight, blood type and medical history pretending to be me in front of a doctor that is supposed to know me is rather low.” “Okay sir, but you are going to have to present that license every time you come in for a visit”, she ended.

Just then my name was loudly mispronounced from the nurse’s station and it was time to go. On my way to see the doctor I somewhat fretfully realized that I have more of my father’s skeptical nature in me than I probably know. And I remembered one of his creeds. “We plan as if we are in control, but I know that we are not.”

© 2011 Christopher’s Views