Venting in the Age of WikiLeaks

Whether Julian Assange of WikiLeaks should be hung in the middle of Times Square, draped in Christmas lights and attached as a decorative ornament to the Rockefeller Center tree is a question I will leave to others, though I would be happy to help shop for rope and lights if needed.  But the new revelations do point to the challenge of maintaining confidentiality in a networked world.  And if confidentiality cannot be maintained, then what options remain?

For a public relations firm, there likely is not a single client agreement that lacks a non-disclosure requirement and a commitment to confidentiality even after the termination of the engagement.  But those agreements, often template legalese written years ago and continually recycled, fail to address the unwitting or unwanted disclosure of electronic messages, files and other records that could result from circumstances as varied as a hacker attack or just a disgruntled employee’s bad behavior.

I lack the qualifications to suggest encryption technologies that might help to reduce such risks.  I would have thought smart people who know about these things would be using our tax dollars to buy the most sophisticated cyber tools available to prevent this kind access and disclosure.  What I am more interested in is the language of all these cables that now necessitate Secretary Clinton’s “pardon my French” round of contacts with foreign leaders.

I have learned through painful experience the horror of hitting the “Send” button with the wrong address auto-filled in the “To” line.  Thank you Microsoft for that convenient feature.  The experience has taught me to re-read every email and be sure I am comfortable with what it says.  It also gives me the opportunity to ask myself how I would feel if this were read aloud in public.  Would my words require contrition or are they properly chosen and suitable to a civilized business discourse?

This is not to say I am above the bad tempered, vitriolic or even condescending characterizations we see in the newly disclosed cables.  Far from it.  But if I ever feel the impulse to vent or, as the State department is now so ingeniously saying, use “frank” language in my observations or recommendations, I have adopted a highly innovative technology that ensures I am able to communicate my message with a minimum of risk that it will later be published on WikiLeaks or anywhere else.

It’s called the telephone.

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