Even in today’s increasingly transparent society, good communication in both personal and business transactions is predicated on the expectation of privacy. Attorney/client privilege and physician/patient confidentiality are two of the best known examples of protected communication. But in the broader arena of commerce, interactions as varied as financial consultations, contract negotiations, and recruitment efforts take place under the umbrella of confidentiality for financial and ethical reasons.
Private vs. Public Speech in Business
In the world of business, a breach of confidentiality can easily be used to harm a company’s reputation. For example, an executive might make a comment in a private conversation that could be misconstrued when taken out of context. A simple expression of opinion could be taken as a statement of fact, a matter of corporate policy, or even libel—with serious legal and public relations ramifications.
Privacy Regulations Are Nothing New
Every time a new form of communication has become available, unscrupulous parties have used their ability to access private information for nefarious purposes. Daniel Solove’s paper "A Brief History of Information Privacy Law" provides a fascinating overview of privacy legislation in the United States.
- In the American colonies, eavesdropping was a punishable offense.
- Opening another person’s mail was made illegal shortly after the establishment of the U.S. postal service.
- Wiretapping was invented just after the telegraph came into common use.
- Laws were written to restrict the publication of a person’s photographic likeness without their consent soon after the Kodak instant camera came onto the market.
- Legislation to protect telephone and internet privacy followed the introduction of these modern technologies as well.
Your Business Has the Right to Privacy in Communication
The fear of undue scrutiny stifles healthy discussion and debate. It is the right of an organization and those it serves to determine how and when certain types of information are made public. Keeping communication private benefits businesses by:
- Supporting good decision-making by promoting honest communication
- Maintaining a competitive advantage by preventing the theft of intellectual property
- Protecting personal information and preserving the trust of clients, customers, or patients
- Mitigating the risk of legal, financial, and ethical consequences from breaches of privacy
Protecting Privacy in Today’s Business World
Both the United States and the EU have dozens of statutes on the books to protect business data and communication. However, these regulations often fail to adequately protect businesses and individuals. Businesses should proactively take additional administrative, legal, procedural, and technological steps to safeguard their company communications at all times.
In our view one of the best decisions businesses can make is to ensure that your data is stored in a jurisdiction that will adequately protect it.
What steps are you taking to protect your online communication?