Wiretapping, whistleblowing and IT ethics

AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein has got Mark Gibbs thinking

Recently a retired AT&T employee named Mark Klein announced at a Capitol Hill press conference that he had evidence that "An exact copy of all Internet traffic that flowed through critical AT&T cables ... was being diverted to equipment inside the secret room."

This secret room, apparently managed by the National Security Agency, was on the sixth floor of AT&T's San Francisco offices. Moreover, this room isn't, so the story goes, unique. There are similar rooms in many other AT&T offices around the country.

Klein had the luxury of becoming a whistleblower after any risk to his job had passed, but he kept copies of documentation to prove his case. I suspect had he blown the whistle while he was at AT&T (and assuming there was an effective opportunity for whistle blowing at the time) he would have been out on his ear.

This story got me thinking about a couple of things. First, this confirms what we had a lot of evidence to support already: that the administration's illegal wire tapping activities cover more than the telephone system and is anything but selective. And it is pretty safe to say that, just as with the telephone surveillance, the key issue with the monitoring of Internet traffic is analyzing connections rather than content: That is, figuring out who is talking to whom.

Why does this matter? Most of us can say, "I have nothing to hide so why should I care?" and we'd be, in principle, correct. But the problem is the government easily could get it wrong. What's more, they are collecting data on everyone and, once they have the data, whose to say what future purposes might crop up to justify putting it to use? That is one slippery slope my friend.

The second thing I started thinking about was ethics. When it comes down to your behavior in the IT world, can you say you behave ethically? Do you have a well-developed sense of what is right and wrong?

Even more importantly, are you willing to act when you know of misbehavior or do you just ignore it, hoping it will go away and leave you alone? These were things you didn't do anything about even though your conscience was bothering you ... so, why didn't you blow the whistle?

I'm guessing many of you have witnessed or even been involved in things that you knew were wrong and sometimes this might have been in the category we could call "minor" stuff. Minor stuff are all those small issues but where it is arguable that reasonable self-interest gives you a justifiable "out."

For example, say you caught your boss liberating a toner cartridge for home use. Is it your responsibility to take action when it could result in you having to look for a new job?

On the other hand I'll bet some of you have been party to bigger issues, things that were wrong or decisions that you knew would lead directly to things that would be wrong in a major way. For example, if you found out that the same devious boss who acquired the toner cartridge was getting thousands of dollars in kickbacks by steering server purchases to a particular vendor, would you feel compelled to do something?

So my question is, what are you willing to do when push comes to shove, when it is something so big and so wrong you can't sleep at night knowing you didn't do the right thing?

If you were in Klein's shoes and you weren't retired and speaking up could cost you your job, would you have kept quiet? We now know there must have been a number of AT&T executives who were completely comfortable with the ethics of allowing the NSA to perform covert wire taps. If you were one of those people, how do you justify your silence? If you weren't, are all of your ethical judgments above board?

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mark Gibbs

Network World
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?