In this week’s episode we are peering into a highly specialized area of communications: the world of spies. Most of us have no dealings with actual “spies” or “agents”, and certainly not the kind depicted in this episode; we may know people that are Huck-like in their strangeness but chances are they don’t work for some unknown section of the CIA. Still, these characters engage in forms of communication that are familiar to us that we use every day: the cell phone, emails, texts and other electronic devices. It is interesting to note that when trying to be secretive, our spies resort to “old school” methods or older technology which is less traceable and not as likely to reveal as much information about the users. The rapid advancement in ways to communicate has given us more convenient and greater access to information than ever before. But this is a double edged sword, while we gain in efficiency we also make it possible to trace and intercept information that is often not intended to be shared with other parties. The right to privacy is too often compromised, even criminally as in the case of the fastest growing crime in this country – identity theft. As we all become more dependent on the latest innovations we also start to see the dangers. It has become particularly prevalent in the area I work in. Just witness the most recent scandals that have been initiated by email, texts or the social media. I tell my clients that whenever they write something down digitally that they should consider it to be permanent and at some time open to scrutiny. Until there are regulations in place nothing is promised secret. The government may need a judge to okay a phone tap but not so to access an individual’s email and texts. Whether it is ethical is open to the interpretation of the intent.While this may be good for the business of crisis management, I’m not so sure it is good for the society as a whole. In a country founded on freedoms and individual rights does our gain in communications technology go counter to those tenants by allowing the government as well as others the ability to know so much about us, to track us even, and in a sense to develop a new kind of “spy”? The truth is it is here to stay and more advancements are on the way but maybe we should be spending more time on how best to regulate such capabilities, to develop new ethics, that is if we still believe that privacy is an individual right.
Judy A. Smith is the founder and President of Smith and Company, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles as well as a Co-Executive Producer of ABC's Scandal. You can follow her on Twitter (@JudySmith_) or "Like" her on Facebook, and you can get more information about managing personal and professional crisis situations by visiting her site, judysmith.com.