I’ve been in the securities business for some time. Ironically, there was a time when I thought it might be better called “the insecurities business.” As a wealth manager, trust is the foundation of our business—trust, confidentiality, and privacy. The information we gather in order to help guide our clients through financial decisions will be held in strictest confidence. There are operations policies, security systems, and firewalls intended to help provide a sense of security.

But lately, I’ve been pondering a different kind of security. Have you given any thought to how much freedom and personal privacy we Americans have willingly forfeited in the name of security? Yes, I understand the need to protect the nation from those who wish to usurp our way of life, and we’ve all learned to live with the inconvenience of the TSA. Yet it’s the more subtle and silent erosion of our personal privacy that concerns me.

Recently I read an essay about why going cashless is good for the banks, but not necessarily good for consumers. Shawndra Hill, a Wharton operations and information management professor noted that “privacy concerns over banks’ or retailers’ ability to obtain or purchase our personal information is one of the main reasons that consumers are resistant to going cashless. Many people do not want to have every move documented.”

Nevertheless, the convenience of going cashless, like using smartphones for direct purchases, trumps the need for privacy for many. Banks and credit card companies capitalize on this perceived convenience. Less foot traffic to banks means less staff to pay, and some banks even penalize you for making in-person transactions by imposing a teller fee.

Of course, you relinquish privacy when you venture online. Web ads track your online behavior and serve up ads that fit your profile. Now credit card companies are developing a technology that monitors your card transactions in brick and mortar stores so they can target you online. Swipe your card at a fast food chain and expect a fitness club ad to pop up on a website.

Google’s company credo used to be “Do No Evil.” But today, they track your IP address, store every search you’ve ever made, and are guilty of some serious privacy breeches. Last year a privacy official in Germany confiscated the vehicle hard drives from Google’s “Street View” program. In addition to taking 360-degree photos of houses, they were downloading sensitive data, including emails and passwords from open WiFi networks.

Then there is the under-construction Utah Data Center, more formally known as the First Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative Data Center.

The exact purpose of NSA’s one million square feet filled with more technology and data storage than one can begin to imagine, is still not clear.

But many continue to brush these issues off with, “I have nothing to hide, so why should I care?” Daniel J. Solove, Research Professor of Law, George Washington University addresses this in his book, Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security. He notes that the “nothing to hide argument” stems from a faulty premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. Yet surveillance can inhibit such lawful activities as free speech, free association, and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of security versus privacy, the more you know, the better choices you can make to protect your own privacy. For starters, there is a search engine that uses Google technology, but does not record your IP address or keep any records of your searches. And there are free applications to block those unwanted and intrusive Web ads.

We have the right to do research and protect our privacy. Let’s exercise it.

Judith A. McGee is the chair and chief executive officer of McGee Wealth Management, Inc., an independent registered investment advisor. She is a co-branch manager of, and offers securities through, Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. (Member FINRA/SIPC) in Portland. Contact her at 503.597.2222 or Judith@mcgeewm.com.

Any opinions are those of Judith A. McGee and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee the foregoing material is accurate or complete.

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