The latest Great Decisions Community Discussion Series drew a crowd of 60 Delaware residents to the basement of the William Street United Methodist Church Friday, Feb. 13. There, Nationwide Insurance vice president, assistant general counsel and chief privacy officer Kirk Herath spoke about data privacy and security.
Herath opened “Privacy in the Digital Age” by saying, “In my talk today I really may be somewhat of an alarmist at times, but I’m trying to be informative.”
He said more security techniques are continuously being developed “to combat the bad guys” and a lack of privacy can result in a variety of issues, including unfair discrimination.
As an example, Herath said if he were to purchase Jack Daniel’s every day with a credit card and insurance companies were able to access that information, they might deny him insurance. He would be “toast.”
Herath said using technology is a trade-off between protecting our information and accessing data and services.
“We’re currently building the largest data center in the world in Utah that the National Security Agency is going to use to collect all this data they apparently don’t have,” Herath said, causing the audience to chuckle.
“I’m serious,” he said. “It’s like an 18 football field-sized data server farm out there and it’s guarded like Fort Knox.”
Herath also said many companies use encryption to protect privacy, but it is complex.
“Encrypted data is perfectly secure,” Herath said. “It’s also garbage if you can’t un-encrypt it, and that’s the fundamental problem we’re all facing. To encrypt Nationwide [Insurance data] universally, it would cost three-quarters of a billion dollars because it would require us to update dozens and dozens of systems. We’d basically have to start all over again.”
To better protect privacy and data, Herath suggested using complex passwords, not oversharing on social media, enabling anti-virus software updates on all technology and avoiding public wireless networks for sensitive digital transactions.
Alice Frazier, a Delaware resident, said she attended the event because she was interested in the topic and always tries to come to the Great Decisions lectures.
“It was a good talk, but I guess it was a little more technical than I was expecting,” said Frazier. “There’s a lot about it I don’t understand, but I thought he did a good job.”
Cory Barringer, another Delaware resident, said the topic was relevant and something she pays attention to.
“It’s pretty clear that you’re not going to be able to totally protect yourself,” Barringer said. “That’s probably my biggest takeaway. The next step is to learn how to deal with it and really pay attention to passwords and make them strong.”
The next Great Decisions Community Discussion lecture is titled “Brazil’s Metamorphosis” and will be given by the chair of Ohio Wesleyan University’s politics and government department, James Franklin. It is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 12 p.m.