Caught Between a Rock and Hard Place

What do you do when you see a glaring gap between the privacy policy posted on your company's Web site and the company's actual practice?

What do you do when you see a glaring gap between the privacy policy posted on your companys Web site and the companys actual practice? This is just one example of the many moral dilemmas that have arisen from the simple fact that data and technology have become among corporate Americas most valuable assets. Organizations have done so well getting value from data that it has come to the attention of newspapers, courts and legislatures, and the task of figuring out the rights and wrongs of data and technology issues has also fallen to these institutions.

What an exciting time to be in IT.

As the keepers of corporate Americas data and technology, we IT managers can be put in the awkward position of trying to find black and white when were actually staring at shades of gray. Deciding right and wrong may not be so easy when the boundaries include formal obligations such as contracts and licensing agreements, ambiguous statutes, and employment concerns such as deciding between doing what youre told or risking your job, as well as your own sense of right and wrong. Here are some examples:

When the CEO asks you to load software onto his college-bound daughters laptop, do you comply? Or do you refuse, quoting to him the license agreement?

When management fears that some backup tapes might contain incriminating evidence, do you comply when youre asked to destroy them?

Is it OK to use the Web to try to discover information about a candidate youre considering hiring?

If youre desperate for vendor support to replace a crashed drive, is it OK to move the failed component from a server that lacks maintenance coverage to one that is covered?

You may already have faced decisions such as these and carefully navigated between the rocks and the hard places. Or, perhaps there was no right answer, and the best you could do was to choose the lesser of the available evils. Take comfort in the fact that youre not alone, and that your peers are probably facing similar issues.

In future columns, Ill address inquiries about such questions, so please dont hesitate to send me your dilemmas. We may merely identify a "least-wrong" course of action—but at least well have done our due diligence by thinking it through.