American in Spain

I don't understand information crimes

August 17, 2012

whistleLet's say I have a secret. Perhaps I'm gay, or I secretly won the lottery, or I killed a guy once, or I have a terminal disease, or I'm in witness protection, or I'm embezzling money from my employer, or I'm having an affair, or I have a supernumerary nipple. Whatever it is, it's absolutely true, but no one knows it, and I'd prefer that it stays that way. Now let's say you somehow discover my secret and you tell everyone. What moral, ethical or legal lines have you just crossed? None, I would argue.

I would be angry and annoyed, but what recourse would I have? From what I can tell, most common law defines the crime of defamation or slander or libel as the spreading of false information about a person or corporate entity.

In the very worst case, let's say that information that came out of your mouth was directly causally linked to someone murdering me. Are you morally or legally responsible for my death? No, of course not. The murderer is.


Now let's say I'm a corporation and I have a secret. Perhaps I've been Enron-ing my books, or I'm developing a brand new drug or tablet computer that I want to keep secret from my competitors. Now let's say you, my employee, release my secret to the press. I would fire you, of course, but you would be lauded as a hero by society.


On the other hand, if I am a government, and you leak one of my secrets, be it about bureaucratic overspending, troop movements, or the location of my spies, our society deems it reasonable that you be jailed for life or even executed for your "crime" of speaking truth.

I'm sorry, but no government has the moral right to keep their troop movements secret so they can more effectively kill their enemies. Nor do they have a moral right to keep their spies' identities secret (so they can more effectively kill their enemies).


It may sound like I'm arguing that we, individuals, corporations and governments, have no right to privacy. Perhaps I am. We certainly don't when it comes to immoral behavior (e.g. my right to privacy in my own home stops when I start beating my wife). All my favorite privacy laws are the ones that protected me from the government, like the fourth amendment or fruit of the poisonous tree.

As the title suggests, I haven't really thought all this through, and I'm thankfully not a lawyer. I'm just thinking out loud online. What do I have totally wrong here?