Avoiding Security Breaches While Talking Business in Flight

May 02, 2012

Robert Brownstone, Technology and eDiscovery Counsel and co-chair of the Electronic Information Management Practice with Fenwick & West, was recently quoted in the New York Times article, "Talking Business in Flight? Be Careful."

Mr. Brownstone was interviewed regarding the security breaches that can occur during business travel. These breaches could be in the form of an overheard phone conversation on a train, a misplaced laptop or mobile device in an airport, or a nosy neighbor on the subway snapping a cell phone picture of a laptop screen or document.

These kinds of disclosures can be particularly common at business conferences, a point that does not surprise Mr. Brownstone. At an employment law conference he attended, he used a computer reserved for registrants. A file entitled "Severance.doc" was on the desktop.

"Just by hovering on the icon on the desktop, a yellow bubble came up with the name of the law firm," said Mr. Brownstone. "I opened it up and saw a final or prior draft of a severance agreement. Here's someone at a conference, learning to be a better employment lawyer and they obviously went into their work e-mail or their computer and dropped something onto the drive and left it sitting there."

When traveling, Mr. Brownstone adheres to a strict protocol to protect confidential information. He uses a software program, Better File Rename, to make documents seem innocuous, and carries a portable scanner to digitize documents. "I just don’t want to have stuff that anybody could eyeball."

He also avoids using his mobile phone to speak with clients when on the road. "I've been a lawyer 25 years; I can only remember one [public] phone call with a client."

When he needs to discuss a client matter with colleagues outside the office, Mr. Brownstone practices verbal encryption. For instance, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was working in New York City on prominent cases such as the defense of Michael R. Milken, who was eventually convicted of securities fraud, and the civil case filed against Claus von Bulow by his stepchildren.

"If we were going to court, the senior partner and I would be hopping in a cab to go to the federal courthouse," said Mr. Brownstone. "We would use code names for the key players in the case. You don't know who the cabdriver just drove or is about to drive."

While he regularly lectures on information security, Mr. Brownstone does admit that he fails to use a privacy filter on his laptop. “Shame on me,” he said.