The illusion of secrecy

Whether you agree or not with Boeing’s decision to fire its CEO for having a consensual affair with another executive of the company, there’s something disturbing about how the firing came about.

The turning point for the board came when steamy e-mails between the two, described as “very graphic,” surfaced and the directors worried that they would become public and embarrass the company.

Harry Stonecipher headed a company that relied heavily on computers to design and fly its airplanes. Didn’t he know? The only way to make the affair more public than using the company’s e-mail system would have been to announce it at the annual stockholders meeting.

If it’s any comfort to Stonecipher, it could have been worse. Hackers broke into the computer of Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst and stole a homemade video of the rocker having sex with his girlfriend. Now Durst is suing a group of site operators for $70 million for posting the tape on the Internet.

Paris Hilton, who had a bad video experience herself, had her cell phone, a sort of computer, hacked and the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of her numerous celebrity friends posted on the Internet.

There’s more than just embarrassment to big names at work.

Scam artists conned the personal data of as many as 400,000 people out of giant information broker ChoicePoint, raising the specter of widespread identity theft. There’s a certain irony there because ChoicePoint makes its money by collecting, storing and selling personal information.

And this week Seisnet, a LexisNexis subsidiary, disclosed that computer intruders masking as legitimate businesses were able to access the personal data of perhaps 32,000 people.

There is a reason, to use President Bush’s locution, that they are called personal computers and not private computers. Indeed, as our red-faced corporate executives and entertainers should well know, they have become further evidence that computers are incompatible with privacy.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)