The password is `frustration'

July 07, 2002|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON - Dear American Express:

I'm writing in order to prove that I am me.

If you'll just look at the byline that accompanies these words, you will be able to confirm that I am, indeed, myself - just as I've been trying to explain to your Web site. However, it still refuses to believe I'm me and won't let me have access to my account.

All this because I can't remember my password. Was it my mother's maiden name? The title of my favorite song? The license number of that old Pontiac I used to own? I can't say.

American Express, I have reached a state of advanced brain lock. My personal human hard drive has crashed, and I couldn't process another password if courtside seats depended on it.

I am suffering from Acute Password Overload. It's a disease characterized by severe gastrointestinal distress along with an uncontrollable rolling of eyes and pursing of lips whenever one encounters the words "Please Create Password."

No, doctors have not recognized APO as a disease yet. But trust me, it's just a matter of time.

I want you to know that it's all your fault. You and every other corporation that uses technology to automate its services. It seemed simple enough in the beginning. You'd sign on, create a password, and conduct your business quickly, privately and conveniently. There was just the one catch: Security experts forbade you to write down your password for fear somebody might find it and use it to steal you blind. You were strongly advised to commit it to memory instead.

Which was all well and good, back in the innocent days of the '90s. But here in modern times, the whole thing has gotten way out of hand.

Today's passwords are required to be longer and more complicated than a Russian novel. Worse, they're multiplying like rabbits on Viagra.

I have passwords for my credit cards, 401(k) and bank accounts, for my Internet service providers and online research services, and for Lord knows how many cyberspace retailers of flowers, books, CDs, toys and videos. I need a password to book airfare, rent a car, reserve a hotel room. I need one to watch a movie on my DVD, change the settings on my cell phone and read the sports page in my hometown paper. Heck, I needed a password before I could use my computer to write this complaint about passwords.

Can you say ARGH?

Look, I understand the need for security. I've seen all the dire reports about identity theft, watched local TV anchors hyperventilating about the idea that someone can steal your personal information and use it to run up all sorts of debt in your name. I have no interest in buying a home theater system for some low-life scam artist. All I'm saying is that there has to be a better way.

I've tried recycling the same few codes. Problem is, each company has different password requirements - some require the use of numbers, others restrict the number of characters. It gets confusing. Maybe all you corporations, all you makers of gadgets and sellers of cyber services, can get together and agree on a way to standardize passwords.

Or if you've got a better idea, let's hear it.

All I know is that I find myself nostalgic for the days when we still had the option of doing business with good old low-tech, high-maintenance, mistake-prone human beings. The days before conveniences became requirements.

Yes, I know that ship has already sailed and not all the backward glances through rose-colored lenses in the world can change that. But you can't blame a guy for trying.

In the meantime, would you please accept the word of this fine daily newspaper that I am who I say I am?

I appreciate your effort to make it impossible for some cyber thief to claim my identity. But it kind of defeats the purpose when I can't claim it, either.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. He may be reached via e-mail at or by calling toll-free 1-888-251-4407.

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