Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Privacy, Spying and the Quandary for Leaders

Bloomberg Contributing Editor Richard Falkenrath and John Borthwick, CEO at Betaworks, discuss the revelation of NSA spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, how the U.S. may respond and the level of overall surveillance of data by the U.S. government. They speak on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg Surveillance."
There must be loads more detail on this matter that the media, and therefore all of us, are yet not privy to.  So we must proceed cautiously, for the purpose of this short article, which is to draw lessons learned for leaders.  Obviously how President Barack Obama responds matters a great deal in crisis management, damage control, and US-German relations.

For one, weighing benefits versus risks, as Falkenrath emphasizes, is well and good.  It's a pragmatic exercise that leaders have to engage in, as part of making decisions.  But this sort reasonable approach operates in an ethical or moral vacuum, which leaders must never put themselves and their people in.  Instead, they must consider ethics and morals as an integral part of decision-making.  

For another, Falkenrath doesn't answer the question of why the US may have even spied on an international ally and arguably a friend.  To say that it's a mistake doesn't say much of anything. But leaders must probe into those underlying reasons, and if they actually know them already, then they must acknowledge them, publicly in a case that has certainly become public.  There are too many people, from leaders, to athletes, to celebrities - at least those in the US - whose knee-jerk response is one of defensiveness and denial.

Finally, as a global society, living amid rapidly evolving technology and quickly shifting boundaries, we must reflect on and talk about privacy and what I see as the ensuing ennui-cum-alarm about it.  Just because a segment of us has become blase about loss of privacy, for example, in social media, or conversely another segment of us are vehemently vocal about it, ought not diminish the fact that this is a serious, disturbing matter.  Courageous leaders willingly facilitate such conversations.

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