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The Perception Of Privacy

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My firm recently announced that they were going to replace our computers with portable tablets. They said if we had our own, they'd install the firm's software on them or provide us with a tablet that would belong to the company. I have some concerns about my privacy if I let them install their software on my own device. However, I don't want to carry around two devices. What are your thoughts?

A.G., via e-mail

I last wrote about something similar back in May 2003 regarding laptops. Since then, the growth of portable tablet computing devices has exploded, along with the growth of social media. Registered reps and advisors want their "connections" to be more portable than ever, both professionally and socially, and firms are trying to keep pace with the demand. However, the privacy issues have not changed all that much since I last wrote about this topic. Firms have a duty to supervise many aspects of their employees' on-line activities. Everything, from emails to clients (which is considered correspondence) to postings on web pages, can constitute advertising or communications with the public. Firms are also increasingly monitoring their employees' web presence for everything from outside business activities to matters that could affect the firm's reputation. Balanced against this are justified concerns of employees over their privacy. Whether it is personal finances, communications with your child's school, or your love life, the convergence of computing and communications devices have opened areas of our lives to employers that were previously considered off-limits. The bottom line is, if you're using a device for business purposes, you can expect your employer to have access to everything on that device and there's not much you can do to prevent it. If you want to keep things personal, keep them on a separate device and make absolutely certain that you don't use it for any business whatsoever.

I had a customer complaint that was filed against me over three years ago that went nowhere. My firm denied liability and the customer dropped the matter. There was another matter over five years ago where a customer complained about a trade and we paid him $2,000 to resolve the matter. No arbitration was filed on that one. I thought customer complaints dropped off after two years and settlements under $10,000 were not reportable. Why are these matters still showing up on my CRD?

— S.L., Georgia

In August last year, FINRA began implementing certain changes to the BrokerCheck system. Additional changes became effective November 2010. FINRA now discloses all "historic" complaints against a broker dating back to 1999. Generally, historic complaints are customer complaints, arbitrations or litigations more than two years old that have not been adjudicated or have been settled for an amount less than the reporting requirement (currently $15,000). Previously, such matters were only reported on BrokerCheck when the broker had three or more disclosable regulatory actions, customer complaints, arbitrations, litigations or historic complaints. BrokerCheck now discloses all historic complaints dating back to 1999 for individual brokers who are currently registered or whose registrations were terminated within the preceding 10 years. The new rule also expanded the amount of information that is permanently available on former brokers. In 2009, BrokerCheck started making information about final regulatory actions (i.e. bars, suspensions, fines, etc.) against former brokers permanently available to the public. The expanded BrokerCheck makes additional information that has been reported since 1999 permanently available, including reportable criminal convictions or pleas of guilty or "no contest"; civil injunctions or findings of violations of any investment-related statute or regulation; and arbitration awards or civil judgments based on the individual's involvement in alleged sales practice violations. See FINRA Regulatory Notice 10-34 for more information.


Alan J.Foxman, is an attorney in private practice
in Boca Raton, Fla. He also works as an
independent contractor with National Compliance Services
Inc. He can be contacted at
this email address.


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