10 March 2005

Ethical Climate, part II

I thought this deserved its own post --

The Jarrett House North blog that I referred to in my previous "ethics" post has some interesting comments -- ones that are shaping my opinion as I go. Quite possibly the most impactful in the "students were wrong" department was the statement that: "That information wasn't theirs to have at that point in the process." (Comment by Tim Jarrett, #4866) Presupposing that to be true, then yes, what the MBA students did does indeed qualify as unethical and rather theft-like. When I read that, I thought, "well, okay, that settles it."

Until I thought some more (always a dangerous thing).

This is exactly like credit report information. I fully believed (up until this point) that you have a right to know what information is being published about you, for purposes of keeping it true. Domain squatting and credit-report-seeking issues have been decided on this "my name is my property" line of thinking.

HOWEVER . . . I can't say that anymore for sure. This may get overly intellectual, but if you'll bear with me, you'll see where I'm going.

(Alert! Libertarian/individualist streak showing!)
Nowhere in the Constitution is a "right to honest report" established. We do have a right to our lives, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our "life" could be understood to include our personal information, as much as our brain activity. So do we or do we not own our personal information? Our reputation?

I've concluded -- at least for the time being -- that we do own our personal information. But we do not have the right to how other people use that information -- our "report" or reputation. That is the decision-maker's right. If something is accurate, and is being presented accurately, that is sufficient. If others choose to form negative opinions (to refuse credit, for example), because of an accurate fact, that's their right. If their decision is based on inaccurate information, we have a right to defend ourselves (also found in the Constitution) by challenging the lie -- a defense which may result in a change of decision/report -- but we do not have a right to change their decision itself.

But I also believe that "Truth will out." Dishonesty, of course, is technically illegal in almost any form (if you can think of exceptions, too bad -- it's still wrong). Eventually, though, we are simply responsible to do what is right, letting the consequences come as they may -- to be who we are, regardless of whether people think good or ill of us. That is our right.

Now for how this applies to this case (in my opinion):

In the case of the MBA students, they have the right to apply to the school with accurate info. They do not, however, have the right to the school's decision, whether to change, view, etc., until the school deigns to release that decision.

As hard as this issue is for me to call, I think my instincts were wrong on this one. But it's nice to be a step closer to a conviction of what's right and why!

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