Staying out of trouble: confidential and classified material

Trip update: It has been a quiet week, although I have gotten much physical exercise loading furniture and boxes from the storage area in our carport and porch into the house, so that the contractor can close out the renovation project. I finally finished on Thursday, so I am almost ready to resume the Southern Swing 2013.

This week I would like to share some thoughts about what to do on the road with confidential material and classified material. These comments may apply mainly to technical writers, translators, and others who work off-site for agencies or companies for whom document security is a concern.

First of all, my office has to be password-protected. This means having security (at least a PIN) on the smartphone and the computer so if someone picks them up, they can’t easily access the content. I also don’t set any files on the computer to be shared, reducing the likelihood of someone on a public network getting into my files. Security on my new Surface Pro 2 is actually easier that on the old Toshiba Portege in one respect. It is small and light enough to carry conveniently anywhere I need to go, which reduces the temptation to walk away from it to go to the bathroom, or to refill my tumbler at the bar at a Starbucks.

The freewheeling freelancer does not have a lockable office, so the basic rule is: never walk away from your computer or your smart phone. Ever.

When getting ready to take your work on the road, it would be wise to review any security requirements or restrictions that your clients may have.  Some of these requirements may be buried in non-disclosure agreements or contracts that you signed years ago.

Some of my clients do not want any of their files stored on the cloud at any time. This is why I have a small terabyte hard drive for backup. Some of my government clients want to be sure that I am not working on the road at all, and insist that my entire hard drive be secured by special software. Fortunately for me, those clients accounted for so little of my annual revenues, that it was easy to leave them behind. Still other clients want to know that I’m performing my services in the United States. That is another small group that I may have to leave behind if I travel abroad.

I share this information simply to illustrate the variety of issues that a freelancer’s clients may have. You may have ones that I have never seen.

Almost all the requirements for document confidentiality that I have seen concern deleting material from media storage after the job is completed, and shredding any paper documents. Sometimes I must certify that I have done this; more often than not it is part of the contractor agreement with the client. Now that I’m on the road, this is actually easier for me. I don’t keep paper unless I absolutely have to, and if I am in a place where I can print something, I’m usually also near a shredder (business center, friend’s office, etc.).

printer and shredder

The printer makes food for the shredder.

Classified material means material that has received a government classification (confidential, secret, top secret, etc.). Working on classified material may seem out of the question for the freewheeling freelancer. However, this work paradigm emphasizes flexibility. I am available to travel to a secure location if the client wants me to work on classified material. This is no different than my availability when I was working back in Charlottesville. The travel costs to go to the classified location are part of the estimate.

Next week, let’s discuss sickness and injury on the road. There is no arguing that the subject touches all of us, whether we travel or not.

Questions and comments coming. I appreciate the off-line comments as much as the ones online.

Smooth roads and tailwinds


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