Sunday, May 20, 2007

Expectation of Privacy vs. Duty to Warn

Those of us who have worked in full-service and self-service copy centers are expected to guard the privacy of customer documents.

After all, we would want people to guard our Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and trade secrets. I have often told those copying sensitive documents not to leave the copies face up, leave the originals on self-service copy machines or shred accidental or bad copies. It is not permissible to make color copies of money, bonds, stamps and ID cards or any copies of copyrighted material to which the person who seeks copies does not own the rights.

I have seen otherwise sensible people succumb to variations of the Nigerian Bank Scam, faxing their Social Security Numbers and bank account information to claim international sweepstakes they never entered or biting on the potential of getting rich with the help of a person they have never met in the Ivory Coast. If I see them about to do this, I feel a duty to warn them.

There were two cases in which I absolutely refused to help persons and warned them that what they were seeking was illegal. A foreign friend and naturalized citizen wanted help making two-sided color copies of airline tickets, which is sort of like making two-sided color copies of money. Hispanics who barely spoke English wanted my help scanning a vehicle title and changing the Vehicle Identification Number. Squealing to the authorities never entered my mind.

The six who conspired to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey ordered a VHS tape of people shooting guns and making jihadist statements converted to a DVD. When the employee who was charged with making the copies realized that these were potential terrorists, he contacted the authorities. Thus began a 16 month FBI surveillance of the Fort Dix Six.

Some employers would not celebrate this tip or guard the worker’s identity, as this particular employer did. Some employers would look for an excuse to terminate this worker for not guarding customer confidentiality.

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