Saturday 20 January 2018

Maeve Dineen: When will we learn that emails and texts are risky business?

WE'VE all done it: furiously typed out some piece of tittle-tattle and pressed the send button on our email -- before stopping in a blind panic, worried that we have sent it to the person we're talking about.

Email -- as well as texting -- is still the fastest way to get into huge trouble as many people from ex-Fine Gael councillor Fred Forsey to the traders at Barclays have discovered.

We all know the rule that one should never write anything in a work email that one would not be happy for the world to see -- but the penny still isn't dropping.

The efforts of Barclays' traders to manipulate Libor (London Interbank Offer Rate) were revealed in excruciating emails last week. The damning email trail that emerged from the bowels of Barclays showed traders addressing each other as "big boy," and "dude," as they connived to manipulate the market and destroy their employer's reputation.

"Dude, I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I'm opening a bottle of Bollinger," one trader wrote.

That they would boast so openly in a company email tells us a lot about both the arrogance and stupidity of those involved in the deals.

Of course, Barclays' traders are not alone. The people at Goldman Sachs, said to be as clever as they come, are no better. Former trader Fabrice Tourre couldn't help boasting in an email about the "pure intellectual masturbation" of a product he had created and how the market was too stupid to price it. More recently, the bank was on the defensive again, hunting through its emails to find the culprits who had apparently been calling clients muppets.

Closer to home, can anyone forget those messages sent from the group of 17 male employees at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who decided it was a "good idea" to forward a "top 10" list of the most attractive female staff?

Often, people resort to texting when they fear email isn't safe, but the McKillen court case, which concluded in London last week, has revealed its fair share of embarrassing texts.

The high-profile case between developer Paddy McKillen and NAMA revealed that IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley sent a text to Mr McKillen reassuring him about his loans -- a text you can be sure Mr Aynsley never imagined would be read out in court and splashed all over the newspapers.

"BB (Barclay brothers) have now been told that the bank has chosen a path to work consensually with you rather than to deal with them. I understand they are not happy!" he texted happily, before adding: "Please keep that confidential as I can't have board positions like this leaking out!"

Interestingly, when IBRC chairman Alan Dukes was asked to explain these messages to the Department of Finance, he told them he would not put anything in writing but would, instead, explain what happened face to face. A case of once bitten, twice shy.

The Department of Finance knows all too well what should be put in writing and what is better left for a phone call or face-to-face meeting. The fact that we still know so little about what happened on the night of the bank guarantee is solely down to the fact that so few notes were taken.

A recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General into the fiasco surrounding an expensive and futile attempt to claim VAT linked to the National Aquatic Centre showed that just as things got tricky, the emails petered out and finished with the words: "I'll call you."

Emails are dangerous and often end up in the wrong hands. Texts are dangerous. Phone calls can be tapped. Sometimes nothing but a face-to-face meeting is safe, although even this can be recorded with hidden cameras these days. We all know the dangers but something tells me very few people will be changing their behaviour anytime soon. They don't called BlackBerrys 'CrackBerries' for nothing.

Irish Independent

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