Trust is a Security Issue. And a Donor Issue. And a Researcher Issue.

A few weeks back, Price Waterhouse Cooper issued a new section of their Consumer Intelligence Series, an ongoing set of studies on different aspects of what influences consumer behavior, specifically in transactions that put something of theirs at risk. This section is a report on the consumers’ trust of businesses. Before dismissing the report on the basis that the study is of businesses, consider that standard practice for such reports, absent any special parameters, is to apply the term to nonprofits, government, and small businesses (including heritage organizations not included in some other classification) are considered businesses for the purposes of such studies. In the terms of the survey, consumer refers to those served in some way by the business.

The analysis included with this particular study emphasized terminology used in institutions that deal in financial transactions, but the ubiquity of cyber networks in general, and the blurring of lines between the primary activities of institutions that handle transactions of any type, (one of the Equifax breaches and the infamous Target breach were accomplished through attacks on third party vendors that did not exclusively deal with the financial side of things), justify a wide base of survey targets. The data was collected from a sample of individuals from different fields, and the questions included both specific types of transactions and general dealings with data used by the institutions.

One part of this study focused particularly on the subject of trust and its connection to security practices. This is not surprising for financial issues. Consumers expect to trust the security of the systems that will handle their data. As archivists, we also confront trust issues. We must assure donors that their information will be handled with care and the donors expect a repository to be a place with excellent security. Researchers also expect the records to come from a secure source, one that can offer assurances as to the quality of the research material as evidence. Additionally, an increasing amount of archival research, along with business transactions that may accompany such research (such as payments for archival services), is carried out across cyberspace.

The questions we must ask ourselves are what would happen if donors and researchers had no trust in our institutions’ security, and how do we establish and maintain that trust? The questions are somewhat rhetorical here, as the answer to the first is obvious, (they leave us), while the second is complicated enough that it is difficult to answer without more information. We do ask you to keep them in mind as we relay a few of the findings of the study to you:

  • 69% of respondents believe most companies that handle sensitive data are vulnerable to hacks/cyberattacks.
  • Only 25% felt that their sensitive personal data is handled securely by most companies that they give it to.
  • More believe that their email or social media accounts will be hacked in the coming year than believe a flight will be cancelled or that they will be in even a small automobile accident.
  • Very few believe they have complete control over their own personal information, while the vast majority specifically feel private business, as opposed to government, will do the best job of providing security.

The report closes with information that it feels is actionable, stating 92% of respondents say that companies should be proactive when it comes to protecting data, with most saying it is the organization collecting the data that has responsibility for its security. 72% thought the government unable to protect sensitive information and 70% believing it unable to assure fair use of such information.

In the final analysis, the vast majority of respondents stated they would not do business with someone they did not trust. They also feared many of the proposed solutions to help organizations establish better security would come at the expense of consumers, who in the end wants to be part of controlling their own sensitive data. As we said earlier, for the purpose of the survey, consumer refers to those served in some way by the business. In archives that could be donors, researchers, a dedicated community, or others. [When we decide how we will provide security, what stakeholders do we consult?] Fewer than 25% of those studied listed nonprofits, information technology, or government as trusted institutions.

The report gave a “call to action” and a bottom line summary. These stated that a company should make cybersecurity and privacy a high priority, “putting cybersecurity and customers’ privacy at the forefront” and “backing it with proven security tactics.”

While much of the report clearly reflects terms and goals associated with for-profit business, the majority has to do simply with whether intended stakeholders will trust an organization with their records and other information. Security is the issue. This is true with paper documents. In this world of constant assault on the security of digital information, that is to say the vast, vast majority of recorded information, it makes taking new, and in many cases radically different, steps to not only secure that which is entrusted to us, but to demonstrate we have done so.


The report can be found here:




Recent Security Related Stories

Two intriguing stories came out recently, regarding the monetary value of cultural heritage and the value rare objects have on cultural pride and identity.  

The New Yorker’s piece, The Complicated Political Lives of Medieval Manuscripts speaks to the second theft of the Book of Kells in 1874 from Trinity College in Dublin.  Today, the Book of Kells is fortified under a sophisticated security system.  To consult the manuscript, researchers must participate in an elaborate ritual which includes assistance when turning a page.  But the subject of this article is not to underscore security protocol.  It is to illuminate the political nature of the Book of Kells, and why it is essential in modern day culture.  In this case, the manuscript represents Irish identity, and it is intrinsically tied to the country’s complex nationhood.  This item is singular in Celtic history, which overwhelmingly speaks to its rarity.  Which is not the case with other repositories that can boast to the many treasures representing their cultural identity.  Because of this, there are racial implications on how objects of cultural identity are used to promote ethnic pride.  The author questions how the worth of cultural objects is determined, interrogating the relationship between value and power, and freedom of information.  


The Ethiopian Herald published an article this November, Ethiopia: The Unfortunate Case of Ethiopia’s Looted Heritages, which denudes a history of theft in the country.  Theft not from lack of proper security measures in the reading room, but more directly related to a historically systemic removal of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage.  The article notes the audacious nature of the theft, based on the patriarchal belief that Ethiopia’s cultural history is better off outside the country. This way of thinking supposes that these objects belong to a larger global culture, and removing them will ensure greater access and protection  The Herald reports that this type of misappropriation is not just an occurrence of the past, but has intensified in recent years.  Because of the rise in theft, government officials have begun to take action, primarily since it directly impacts tourism.  Antiquities attract visitors, and in turn, they help to boost the economy.  The government has now created a national database to track stolen cultural property.


The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1757 – 1772). Habit of an Ethiopian in 1581. Ethiopien. Retrieved from

Looted: The Podcast Now Available On-Line

Are you looking for something about cultural heritage crimes to occupy any downtime that my crop up during your end-of-year festivities? If so, Looted: The Podcast might be for you. Archaeologist Zoë Kontes and her team “uncover the hidden stories of ancient artifacts and their journeys in the illicit antiquities trade.” In addition to the 25-minute-or-so episodes, there are plenty of links to other information about each story.

The program launched in October and there are currently three episodes. Hopefully, there are more to come in the future.

NBC New York Segment on Combating Looted Antiquities


Last week, Wale Aliyu of NBC News 4 of New York City  presented his investigation showing what Homeland Security and law enforcement and prosecutors in New York are doing to combat looted art and antiquities and return these objects to their rightful owners. You can view the 2:40-second video via this link.

With so many places around the world currently experiencing political and military unrest or attempting to rebuild from recent events, this is a significant problem that show no signs of slowing down in the near future.