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Business Ethics in the News
BOOZALLEN: Rethinking Corporate Policy Toward Whistleblowers
Friday, Jun. 21, 2013
Edward Snowden, National Security Agency whistleblower, has been fired from his job at Booz Allen Hamilton. This month, Snowden went public with details on the NSA’s PRISM, a government surveillance program, which he gained through his work at the firm. Booz Allen released a statement confirming that Snowden had been terminated due to “violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy.” With its primary business involving highly sensitive government information, it is no surprise Booz Allen places a premium on discretion. Nonetheless, news of NSA’s PRISM program has been embraced by the public, and has sparked calls for open debates on the program from both members of Congress and President Obama. Whistleblowing is often detrimental to a firm’s short-term financial position, but has proved to be a valuable practice, from society’s perspective, in keeping firms and governments accountable. Did Booz Allen handle Snowden’s whistleblowing case correctly? Should companies leave room for principled whistleblowing on some issues?
Kirk: It would be very hard to construct a policy that allowed employees to violate some obligations of confidentiality or specific performance for clients. Snowden had opportunities to raise his concerns internally within Booz Allen, or to resign and end his complicity with a system he felt was unethical. If Snowden felt he had an obligation to violate his own contractual obligation to secrecy, he should be willing to be tried and even prosecuted. Civil disobedience is most powerful when it demonstrates the whistleblower’s willingness to pay a price to get the word out.
Patrick: Firms like Booz Allen would not exist if they included a “whistleblower clause,” as their business is predicated on secrecy. On the other hand, there is great concern over the efficacy of “internal whistleblowing” and its fairness to the whistleblower. The company retains the power to sweep both the issue and the whistleblower under the rug, through stripping the whistleblower of responsibility and power over an extended period of time. Ideally, the public would band together to provide a safety net to whistleblowers, allowing whistleblowers to speak up despite lacking company support; but, can we trust the masses to get these things right?