For months, mainstream media has focused on the Wikileaks website where tens of thousands of documents, videos, and other forms of media which would, otherwise, have remained out of public scrutiny have been released for societal purview. From this, comes the discussion of ethics in business.
In its own words, Wikileaks says, "Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations."
How one defines what is deemed unethical is arbitrary and subjective. One defines personal values and ethics according to individual and societal culture, norms, mores, and taboos, which are so deeply entrenched in one's self from an individual's moment of birth, one cannot assuredly say that what is for one is for many. Lest one confuse the meaning of ethics, it is important to state that, in this instance, ethics is defined as "the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group". Around the world, personal and cultural ethics have defined entire societies since the beginnings of "civilized" humankind. Currently, examples of societal cohesion are found amongst allied, global nations; likewise, others clash head-on in an attempt to reign over defining "right" and "wrong". From a worldly perspective to a personal, micro-perspective- as a world citizen and as a member of a local community, ethics guide decisions and courses of action within one's self and in the manner one conducts actions in the greater world.
In the case of Wikileaks, it releases private or secured documents and other media, which it deems worthy of public view, and it publishes the media without apology, shame, or regret. In the United States, there are corporate whistleblower laws that protect individuals' rights against retaliation from entities (financial loss, loss of life or liberty) which have violated laws of professional ethics. In the U.S., the belief is that corporations, acting as single entities, are not capable of policing themselves and that the government does not have the necessary resources to adequately monitor ethical behavior across the board. So, while it has regulatory commissions, it also recognizes the importance of protecting those whistleblowers with the understanding that there is a societal obligation and burden for all to maintain certain categorical imperatives; that is, those matters on which the majority of people agree. For instance, in the U.S., people by-and-large follow the ethics of the Ten Commandments- no killing, no stealing, no raping, no adultery, speak well of others, respect neighbors, and be a good citizen.
Is what Wikileaks does considered ethical? For the most part, society also judges what is ethical according to the good and positive results which can be reaped from the truth. Whistleblowers, in the past, have helped shed the light on grievous acts in order to protect others from wrongdoing. Because corporations and governments, enjoy certain societal power, therefore, having the ability to affect the less-powerful, society also holds these entities in a higher regard when it comes to being accountable and answering for its actions.
So far, the world has seen Wikileaks play games like a playground bully. The data and information it releases, at best, seems petty, gossipy, and only causes societal upheaval and mistrust. Furthermore, the most recent Wikileaks incident involving the release of foreign diplomats' confidential wire communications could have caused real, physical injury to those in the business of foreign relations. There are also real rules and laws that exist in world governments. In the U.S., this means that Wikileaks and anyone who steals and uses U.S. military classified secret information during wartime is in violation of the Espionage Act of 1917. Here, it is punishable by death.
The ethical question here is whether all information should just be available, without regard to whether the information can damage, ruin, kill, and destroy lives in reputations, relations with others, and financial condition? Is it Freedom of Speech, or is it a chaotic, bullying means to push one entity's idea of what is ethical?
It seems that Wikileaks is the gossiping family member who, as a source of his or her own entertainment, will happily let everyone know that no secret is safe. While some have said that Wikileaks is not responsible for leaking the information in the sense that someone else, not with the organization, is responsible for the information gathering, society expects that, ethically, if in possession of what is known to belong to someone else, there remains an obligation to return that which was stolen, no? This isn't a case of Enron where taxpayers and governments are being bilked, or polluted waters that have caused serious, environmental damage and genetic mutation in humans and plants as in past cases with 3M and GE, so where does society say enough is enough?
This recent State Department matter was none of anyone's business except for whom the information was intended. Foreign diplomats build relationships with people in areas around the world, in places the U.S. may or may not be seen in a favorable light. When we meet people, we gather information about them to try to better understand them, so we can find common-ground in an effort to support our own interests. It makes life easier. It is not a false relationship of use and abuse, it is what people have done in the entire history of human relationships. It is how progress is made.