T-Mobile's Stolen Data: If You're Selling, I'm Buying

Last Updated Nov 18, 2009 12:11 PM EST

The fact that T-Mobile's data centre employees are believed to have sold on customer data is bad enough. But the collective shrug that has accompanied the news makes it worse, revealing the unpalatable truth about eroding employer-employee relations. Here are a couple of things I'd take issue with:

1. There's the 'what do you expect of low-paid workers' argument. This seems to assume that anyone earning minimum wage would sell their soul for a few pieces of silver. Not to be naive -- temptation plus a poorly-paid job is one recipe for fraud. But it's not the paycheque that determines someone's moral flexibility -- look at SocGen's Jerome Kerviel and Bernard Madoff. Low paid and 'lowly' aren't the same thing.

Arguably, your affection for your employer shouldn't influence your willingness to commit fraud, either. But it's probably easier to be persuaded to sell company data if you don't feel your part of the business anyway.

2. Then there's the question of who's buying this booty? Stolen infon was apparently sold on for 'substantial sums' -- to rival networks. They then cold-called customers coming to the end of a contract to lure them away from T-Mobile. While the Information Commissioner is calling for custodial sentences for data breaches, it doesn't appear that recipients will face even a fine for Data Protection Act violation.

Beefed up regulation is one likely response -- the threat of jail for data thieves might put off opportunists. Recruitment screening might expose potential fraudsters.

But only leadership -- decent management -- addresses the engagement issue. Data centre staff may be a tough group to engage. But not impossible.