Identity Theft Through Oral Conversation? It’s Possible. Protect Your Customers.

Are you taking as much care in protecting the privacy of verbal communication as you are in securing your data? Sensitive information is often communicated in every day conversations with the exchange of customer telephone numbers, account information, and appointment dates and times.  Speech privacy is becoming increasingly important in the workplace. In a business setting, overhearing sensitive conversations can lead to a breach of privacy that can decrease a client’s trust and cost money for the company.  Some institutions such as the healthcare industry, financial firms, law offices, and educational institutes, have put laws in place to make sure speech is private. Noncompliance with these laws can lead to exposure of sensitive information resulting in identity theft, and in turn cost the company hefty fines and a damaged reputation.

HIPAA Law

In August of 2002, HIPAA amended their privacy rule to include oral communication. The new rule states that incidental disclosure of protected health records that occur during authorized activity do not violate the privacy rule as long as they are limited in nature and reasonable safe guard measures to prevent a breach of privacy are in place. Although there are no strict guidelines for these safe guard measures to comply with HIPAA, PHI and HHS will be looking at other professionals for guidance as well as looking to the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) for industry standards on oral speech privacy. The ASTM uses an articulation index to prove acceptable levels of speech privacy for business and healthcare.

Although HIPAA is the most known law to protect client’s privacy, other institutions have adopted this practice to make sure the privacy of their own clients against identity theft. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) states that post-secondary educational institutions make a reasonable effort to safeguard student information including finances, grades, housing, and personal health. Financial institutions hold a wealth of valuable and sensitive information on all their clients. It is vital that information is kept private. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) states that nonpublic personal information such as name, address, income, social security number, or any other information collected for transactions must be reasonably protected from the public. On average victims of personal financial information theft or identity theft, lose $13,160, and much of this responsibility falls on the firm’s negligence increasing the company’s need for speech privacy.

discussion-154286Speech Privacy Rules

These laws force specific institutions to abide by these privacy rules to keep sensitive information about their clients secure but these kind of security measure are not limited to these fields. Speech privacy, also known as sound masking, is a significant tool for this purpose in office and retail environments.

Speech privacy does not only relate to the health care industry or to financial institutions, as it is also necessary when trying to sell to a customer in retail environments. Many retailers have something they push to their customers and without speech privacy every potential client in line, in the waiting room, or just passing through can overhear these conversations and make a quick decision on the product before hearing all of its benefits.  Privacy is important for the customers as well, in some cases clients share sensitive information, such as their health, finance, or sizes; speech privacy allows clients to open up without fear of other clients overhearing this information and using it against them to pursue identity theft.

By abiding by this privacy rule, financial institutions, health care locations, personal care facilities and more not only meet the standards put forth by HIPAA in protecting their customers’ information verbally, but also increase the trust and sense of security from their customers as well.

Speech Privacy using sound Masking

How do you create speech privacy in your workplace to protect sensitive information that is distributed through conversation? HIPAA, GLBA, and FERPA requirements are flexible and allow each workplace to find the best solution to fit their needs. This can be as simple as being aware of these laws and making an effort to take private or sensitive conversations to a more secluded area and talk in hushed tones. Health care offices will often ask that people form a line several feet away from the oral transaction. Financial institutions may pull the customer into a separate cubicle or office situation for increased privacy for longer discussions, however these financial institutions may also use the same distances line formation as the healthcare industry when doing quick counter transactions with their clients. Private offices and conference rooms make a secure place and sound proofing the rooms proves the company is putting up safe guards for their customer’s privacy and should be used when possible. It is also important to get quality-ceiling tiles; these will absorb the sound to keep conversations private. Sound masking is another way to increase privacy by masking conversations. Although effective, some of these methods are costly and sometimes cannot fit into the budget or floor plan.

Speech privacy can give a budget-friendly tool to aid businesses in following the privacy laws. It also allows for less distraction, which increases productivity of employees. Speech privacy adds a sound masking element by adding a soft white noise much like the air blowing from an air conditioner. Tie National, LLC has partnered with Cambridge Sound Management to offer an excellent Sound Masking product. To help explain how this product helps protect conversations, they use an example of someone turning on a flashlight in the dark. The beam of light is so clear and everything in its path is lit up and visible. This is what it is like without sound masking. Everyone can hear each other’s conversations and private information is at risk. Turning on Sound Masking in these types of environments is like turning on a flashlight in a well-lit room. The beam of light is there but is much more diluted and difficult to see. The ear is tricked the same way. By adding more sound, the conversations seem to disappear or be less noticeable. This increases privacy and reduces distractions. Sound masking involves a couple of components: the hardware that is often installed near  or on your telephone backboard, and the sound emitters that are places strategically throughout the space working like a speaker to distribute the sound.

Sound masking ensures speech privacy and proves that your company has put up reasonable safeguards for speech privacy to comply with the HIPAA, GLBA, and FERPA standards. Sound masking can help reduce distractions, improve productivity, increase privacy, and improve the workplace ambiance.  Learn the laws related to your field and make sure your using the right solution for your company.

For more information, please consider reading the following links used as sources for this blog:

http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/summary/privacysummary.pdf

http://library.ahima.org/xpedio/groups/public/documents/ahima/bok3_005189.hcsp?dDocName=bok3_005189

http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html

http://csmqt.com/industries-page/retail/

http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/bus67-how-comply-privacy-consumer-financial-information-rule-gramm-leach-bliley-act

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