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Someone is always watching

How compliance rules make us less ethical… and what to do about it

Integrity is doing the right thing when you don’t have to — when no one else is looking or will ever know — when there will be no congratulations or recognition for having done so.

~Charles Marshall

You’re heading home after a tough day at work, or you’re heading out to your favorite restaurant. You climb into the back of an Uber and settle down in your seat, grateful for a few minutes of quiet time and comfortable solitude.

What you don’t notice is the hidden camera on the dashboard. So you have no reason to imagine that you’re being live-streamed before an audience of thousands.

Creepy? Most of us would think so. But not the St. Louis driver who recorded hundreds of passengers on camera, some of them kissing, vomiting, or gossiping about relatives and coworkers. He was so pleased with his own videography that he even promoted the site where he posted his recordings on Twitter.

Apparently, it never occurred to him that some of his passengers might be less pleased, especially the young women who discovered on-site comments rating them on a 10-point attractiveness scale or making lewd suggestions. If it’s any consolation, both Uber and Lyft have suspended the driver, while Twitch, which hosted the site, has shut it down.

However, no charges are pending. According to Missouri law, only one party has to give consent to record an interaction, so the driver did not technically break any laws. Which raises the following questions:

  1. Are we justified in violating someone else’s privacy as long as we aren’t violating the letter of the law?

  2. How should we conduct ourselves in a society where we know others won’t respect our implicit right to privacy?

The confusion between what is legal and what is ethical has been fueled by the unchecked expansion of compliance regulations, which cost the IT industry alone an estimated $270 billion each year. The idea of legislating ethics erodes the very concept of what it means to be ethical – namely, the commitment to take the high road even when the law permits us to descend into the mire.

Respecting people’s personal and virtual space should be a given. What’s more, such amorphous “rights” don’t lend themselves to legislation, since time, culture, and circumstance preclude a universal, quantifiable definition of how much space a person should be given.

Nevertheless, as the demarcation lines of personal respect and dignity dissolve, we can no longer count on common sense to guide public conduct. So we end up with the enactment of laws becoming a perpetual game of whack-a-mole, with loopholes popping up for every new politically correct injunction.

Civility is the inevitable loser.

If we can’t fix the system, the logical alternative is to fix ourselves. We can start by bearing in mind that someone is always watching, whether the Uber driver in the rearview mirror, the cafe patron with a cellphone, or the Jumbotron camera at a ball game. The bottom line is this: don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t want going viral on YouTube.

It’s not just a matter of protecting yourself. It’s an act of social responsibility: the better each of us behaves in public, the better all of us will behave in public. And that will be to everyone’s advantage.

King Solomon says, Curse not the king in your thoughts, nor the rich in your bedchamber; for a bird of the air shall carry your voice, and some winged creature will make the matter known.

Even in Solomon’s time, the walls had ears. In our time, the walls have eyes, and they capture images that last forever. So speak pleasantly and walk with dignity always. That way, when you’re caught on camera, instead of having to cringe you can hold your head up high.

Published by Jewish World Review

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