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E-Mails Nail Wrongdoers

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Take a poll among tech gurus past and present, and I predict you’ll find that despite our high-minded intentions and stations there are few things more viscerally satisfying to us than being able to say: “I told you so.”

Last March, I tried to impress upon readers of my column that the idea of privacy on the Internet particularly when it comes to e-mail is a joke. We are blissfully unaware of how easy it is for anyone with some gumption or a complete lack of morals to see our most intimate or inane e-correspondence. If you trust that your electronic communications are private, I warned, you might just as well walk down the streets of your hometown naked.

Now some highly-placed executives from Marsh & McLennan and their insurance company partners are seeing e-mail used as evidence in a fraud and collusion investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. If Internet privacy is a joke, be sure that no one at the firms being probed is laughing.

It?s simply incredible that supposedly educated, well-read individuals continue to believe that “delete” means “destroy” when it comes to electronic communications. E-mail can hang around on servers (both in-house and virtually anywhere on the Internet) for years. Even where it has been deleted from a hard drive or a drive has been wiped clean, e-mail can be recovered with the right technology.

Readers of my column already know these facts, and I’m certainly not the first to trumpet this message. That’s what makes it all the more mind-boggling that these individuals would brazenly twist arms to solicit a contingent commission agreement or coerce a carrier to participate in a bid-rigging scheme via e-mail.

What is in the minds of these individuals who not only parade around the cyber-universe naked, but seem to do so unashamedly? Are we dealing with a subculture of technology dimwits? Actually, I don’t think so.

In another column dealing with a survey that showed that even top-level employees of some British carriers had accessed confidential data that was off-limits, New Jersey psychologist Ronald Westrate commented: “They do it because they can. There’s a certain sense of omnipotence It’s a very arrogrant gesture.”

I think that kind of arrogrance is also what is at work when shady deals are conducted via e-mail. I don’t think the individuals who do such things believe for a second they will get caught, or that anyone would even take notice. They’re caught up in a power trip that allows them to wield control over multimillion-dollar companies with the click of a mouse. They’re playing God. What do they care if some mere mortal hears their discourse?

So I take great delight in pointing out that I was right about the dangers of trusting the privacy of e-mail not because it affirms me, but because wrongdoers in our industry will be brought down, and their downfall will result from their arrogant ignorance of the technological facts of life.

Just recently, we’ve seen the collapse of what Boston Red Sox owners termed “the evil empire,” when the swaggering New York Yankees went down in humiliating defeat at the hands of the Beantown bunch in the American League championship. With Mr. Spitzer promising many more fraud cases to come, perhaps we can now look forward to the toppling of the “empire of arrogance” in our own industry.

Ara C. Trembly

Senior Editor

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, October 28, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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