The missionaries power supply was faulty so data could not be wiped or backed up before it was sent away for repairs and because it could take several months to fix the problem, the 'customer service' policy was to provide a new phone. This scenario raises many concerning issues. A new phone is always nice but what about all the irreplaceable data left on the old phone? What happens to it? Can it be retrieved? Will confidential material get into the hands of the wrong person??
Missionaries, business people, social workers, health workers and anyone with sensitive information about clients have every right to be concerned about the privacy and safety of the material stored on their mobile phones. As technology changes phones have become more than just a verbal communication tool. They now offer a variety of services, from cameras to voice recorders and even internet. Storing important information has never been easier or more convenient than having it on a mobile phone. You can carry photographs, text messages, addresses, contact numbers, documents and emails on a device that fits in your pocket.
Mobile phone companies act in good faith when they send faulty phones to places like China for repairs but they need to reassure customers that there are safety nets in place to protect data or to ensure it is destroyed effectively. After all, China does have a reputation for its lack of integrity when it comes to human rights and religious freedom.
We have to remember that not every country is a free society like Australia where citizens are free to worship. Many nations have strict religious laws and affiliations and persecution of Christians is common place.
Obviously no-one is exempt from a having a broken mobile phone. It may be lost, dropped or simply breakdown. The key is minimising data loss or transference of sensitive material into the wrong hands.
Mark Tronson, Chairman of Well-Being Australia, is a mobile phone lover. He finds it convenient but admits his contains a lot of sensitive data.
"We need to be alert, not alarmed and take sensible precautions when using mobiles. We owe this to those who trust us with their personal information, whomever they are", says Tronson.
Anyone dealing with clients and a database of personal information needs to be careful with the data stored on their mobile phone. Emails, text messages and photos need to be filtered or regularly deleted so they aren't stored in the memory for an extended period of time. Although this may partially defeat the convenience of having a phone, another safety precaution is to record names in a way that can't easily be traced. For example, you may know who M.T. is, but no-one reading the data will know.
Alternatively, information (numbers that are not often used, photos, text and email messages that don't need to be regularly accessed) can be downloaded to a diary or computer at the end of each day. This means only a small quantity of data is stored on the phone at any one time. Even if you occasionally need to look up a diary to get in touch with an old contact, this is a minor inconvenience for the protection of a client. It's all about performing a little old fashioned house keeping with your phone.
The good news is that as the prices of phones and laptops decrease weekly, so does the danger of theft – and it is less likely you will drop your computer and not notice, than lose your mobile phone. Having your phones information safely stored on a computer is a smart alternative.
Remember data does not exist unless it's stored in two places because one set of recordings can easily be lost or destroyed. A thoughtful professional who has care of sensitive data or personal information should back up everything on a daily basis – either on two different hard drives, or a hard drive and 'something else' such as a flash drive, printout, or paper diary. One of these copies should be stored in a fire-proof safe. Every night.
If all this is done regularly, then the loss of a mobile phone will not be such a worry or inconvenience. If numbers and contacts are coded and sensitive data stored elsewhere, anyone who repairs the device in another country won't be privy to the information.
Maybe it is time for manufacturers to include a 'data-swiping' mechanism for Sim-cards, similar to the magnets that could wipe the older magnetic tapes. This could be done in the phone-shop, in full view of the customer. Then missionaries and other professionals will not care what happens to the mobile phone after that. All data will be destroyed. Just make sure you have a backup!!
Obviously some of the answers to protecting sensitive information stored on our phone resides with the manufacturers, but by instituting good business practices and doing a little 'housekeeping', we can take the initiative to protect ourselves, our sensitive data, and our clients.