By Andrew Bloch, Cross Pennamped Woolsey & Glazier PC
Look around your office. At your desk. Even on your computer screen. How much identifiable information about your clients (or litigants if you’re a judicial officer) can you find in the next sixty seconds? Go ahead, I’ll time you. How many client names, phone numbers, account numbers, or other personally identifiable information did you collect? How many different clients were exposed during your sixty-second scavenger hunt? Why the self-reflection?
A recent article in NPR discussed a law professor challenging her students to identify a person solely based on what they reveal in public. The results were frightening. As family law lawyers, we collect and hold sensitive information on behalf of our clients. How well are we controlling who has access to it? During World War II, the United States put out a series of posters under the theme “Careless Talk.” The general point of the posters was that even small snippets of information could easily compromise national security.
Let’s return to our sixty-second scavenger hunt, but now imagine it’s done by a member of the cleaning crew, a curious client left unattended in your office, or even a family member. How much would client information be compromised if you left your cell phone or another electronic device on a bench in the City-County Building? How easily are we making it for others to compromise client confidentiality or client privacy? A few simple tips can make obtaining client information that much harder:
- Password protect your electronic devices with strong passwords. (Don’t use “12345” or “password.”) Use unique passwords for each device.
- Be careful who you allow to use your electronic devices, you never know what they’ll use it for or download onto it.
- Try to keep clutter to a minimum on your desk or remove it entirely when a client or member of the public is in your office.
- Log out of your devices when you’re done for the day and lock your office door.
- Don’t talk about client cases in public no matter how little information you give to the other party. As you can see from the NPR article, it doesn’t take much information to identify someone using Google.
- Be careful what you post about cases, parties, other lawyers, judges and court staff on the internet (whether it’s Facebook, your own blog, or via email). Lawyers have actually been disciplined for divulging confidential information or making derogatory comments about other lawyers or the Court in violation of Professional Rules of Conduct. Listservs can be your friend for advice, but the other lawyer or judicial officer may also see your question.
- Reexamine office policies and work with staff to eliminate potential areas of risk.
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