Security and Privacy as a Pretext to Hide Corruption?

If 10,000 people can see something with their eyes, each day, is it really a security matter? Can it really be a privacy matter? Or is this a pretext to hide evidence of corruption or other embarrassment?

Criminalizing Observation

In Chicago recently, there was some upset when it was believed that the police were attempting to write laws to protect them from being filmed while they were working. (Click here.)

Many of us are surprised when we find such suspicious government efforts in the U.S.  But of course, it is happening internationally quite frequently.

Working internationally, I  often find cab drivers advising that I not take photos of the most benign subjects for fear of police officers arresting me and taking my cell phone.

Me: “Seriously? It’s a dirt road?  or “That’s a traffic jam!”

Typical replies:

“Yes, it is against the law” Or

“It is against the law unless you have a written release from each person in the photograph.” (No, I am not kidding – see here for examples of country specific privacy laws.)


“There may be government people’s houses here.”

“There are government buildings in this picture.”

Security Issues are Real

Don’t get me wrong. I have seen first hand that it is a dangerous world, and security can be a very serious matter. But occasionally, my mind wonders toward suspicion when considering measures that restricts a person’s right to see and comment on what is directly visible and experienced by thousands of people.  (See Is Photography  Becoming Illegal?)

It could be judged that any government’s reaction to being “seen” follows a certain scale.

The gradient scale of government fear seems to vary conversely to their ability to . . . influence . . . the witnesses.

  • No concern about being seen.
  • Individual witnesses can be intimidated.
  • Individuals with cameras can also be intimidated, but it may take more effort.
  • Individuals with cell phone cameras are a much bigger problem because you have to find a way to stop them from immediately broadcasting what has been seen through social media.

In that regard, cell phones pose a nasty problem for government officials concerned about being seen. A problem that is broadly solved with over reaching privacy and national security laws.

If “evidence” can be regulated away as illegal, we are left with only the problem governments have been able to solve since the stone age – how to handle witnesses without evidence that may dare to speak.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The hew and cry of privacy and national security begins to come across somewhat like the “Emperor’s New Clothes” when the “secret” or privacy matter is plainly observed by so many and already exists throughout the internet and Google Earth.

Evaluating actual security and privacy issues is a legitimate function of government responsible for the protection of its people and their individual rights.  But in some circumstances where privacy and security issues are raised it seems fair to ask, “Is this a pretext?”

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Inability to Follow Instructions and Organizational Decay

Alignment of Organization Activities. B. PinkowskiFollowing instructions. It seems pretty simple as a concept. But in most organizations, including government organizations – its not. And it leads to failure of organizations and catastrophic corruption.

I offer one recent example that is fairly typical in some development (and not-so-developing) countries.

Example: A collection of local business people decides to form a collaborative business organization – a chamber of commerce.

The law and regulations are clear, and the group files the forms to open the organization.

Six weeks later, the group is informed that their application has been denied because:

  • The logo is not on a separate page.
  • There are not 5 corporations requesting the formation of the new organization.
  • And several other items.

The attorneys scratch their heads and point out that “these items are not specified in the law and regulations. Moreover, they are in direct conflict with the written instructions AND the example pointed out by the Ministry regulations.”

Answer: “Yes, but this is how we do this.”

Response: “But you told us something different two months ago when we filed the documents for another company . . . I have the documents here . . .”

Answer: “I don’t care. This is how we do it.”

After a second round of “guess what the rules are,” the corporations give up, and pay someone who is a relative of one of the government staff to file the paperwork.

The relative was hired to decipher the confusion of the employees who were unable, or unwilling to follow instructions in their own laws and regulations.

Entire process – months and thousands of hours and more than 15 full time days.

You may think: “Well. Who cares? It was completed, wasn’t it?”

Yes, this particular example was completed. And the burden on the group filing for this organization was relatively small.

But picture this: hundreds of people interacting with this office each year. Each getting different instructions about what to file.

People at the top of the organizations completely clueless about what is and isn’t happening with important business filings.

And other organizations across a government with similar failings.

It is fun and sexy to pretend that anti-corruption is like CSI TV shows.

Catching people at the top of the political food chain using sophisticated forensic and financial investigations is fun. (If the political will exists to do something about it after they have been caught.)

Unfortunately, those tools do not help change the culture that promotes a government culture unable to follow the rules.

After all, who is being taught that those laws and regulations are to be followed?   Who is continually checking to see that the rules are being followed?

In the example above, it is a certainty that those employees HAVE NEVER been tested on the law and procedures they are to follow. And it is equally certain that there is no internal training program to keep employees sharp.

The key to long lasting changes in government is in high quality education and administrative training.

Where people cannot read, understand and follow the rules, there is almost no chance to curb corruption.

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The Role of Education in Anticorruption

Don't know how to do this.
Many government employees in developing nations are not adequately trained. Leaving the door wide open for corruption.

The justice we usually seek in corruption cases is too little and too late. “Name ‘em and Shame ‘em.”

“Throw them in jail.”

It’s too late. And we know it.

Let’s instead take a look at our equally astonishing failure to transfer knowledge in developing nations.  Failure to diligently transfer knowledge, skills and competency is at the heart of many, many government corruption problems.

We find that developing nations, and the international community, will have very little attention on building the systems necessary to ensure that newly crafted legal regimes are followed, understood, and result in consistently repeatable performance throughout government offices.  They like the big, sexy items.  New laws.

Bluntly, there is not enough attention on how those laws get implemented.

The next time you visit a developing nations for business purposes, ask about the internal training departments.  You won’t find one.

Suddenly all the problems you are having with administrative procedures and legal requirements snap into focus.   There is no department with responsibility to provide ongoing training to staff AND MANAGERS about their responsibilities and the laws.

Instead, you will find an office which:

  1. Understands only the generalities of their law.
  2. Feels completely free to ignore requirements of the law.
  3. Feels completely free to add things to the requirements based upon their own opinion.
  4. Is completely oblivious to the burden that their failure to follow the law places on a country.
  5. Is largely unaccountable because there are no systems in place to ensure that laws are followed.

Who needs parliamentarians in such an environment?

“Oh, now wait a minute,” say my friends in the international community. “Our core principles and our contracts include sustainable practices.”


Where are the internal training departments? How many hours each year is the staff AND THE MANAGEMENT in training?

It is not possible to build a culture of professionalism and competency within government offices with one or two training programs.

It is not.

The absence of such commitment to professionalism and competency GUARANTEES corruption.

Refugees, Failed Nations and Corruption

Refugees and Corruption
Refugees and Corruption

The weekly death toll and ongoing human tragedy of the refugee crisis internationally is stunning for several reasons.  First, despite all of the talk (and talk and talk) about humanitarian principles and human rights, the international community has not moved beyond shutting borders, denying visas, and tent cities to deal with the several refugee crises occurring around the world.

These crises are, of course, a direct result of the decay of nations – corruption.   Continue reading “Refugees, Failed Nations and Corruption”

Information campaigns in anti-corruption

Cows in South Sudan
Controlling Cattle in South Sudan

In anti-corruption workshops I regularly have participants go through the exercise of identifying what would be necessary to destroy a group – to cause a group to decay to the point of failure. Invariably, the participants will include control of communications as a method of creating decay of the group. You can see this play out in larger contexts involving rebellion.  South Sudan is facing exactly such a problem now.

Here is a related article about the its inability to maintain group identity and coherence.

Social Media and Anti-Corruption


Cover-NewToolsforFightingCorruptioninOrganizationsThere is a battle happening in Traditional and Social Media right now.  A battle for your mind.

The battles attempt to define the reality of what is happening in Gaza and in Ukraine. Victory will go to the side that successfully convinces us what to believe is the “truth” in these countries.

This same problem goes beyond national political maneuvering to include to anti-corruption.  (And often includes the same players.

Indeed, the truth about things is difficult to sort out, certainly in “traditional media” where nations are engaged in the paid PR Battles (Admittedly, this is only one side of the PR battle but you can see a sampling of Russia’s PR program Here. And Here.   Similar references can be found on national PR strategies involving Gaza, the U.S. and every other country.

Using the information channels to influence our opinions is not especially underhanded, in my view. It’s advocacy. Its advocacy until it becomes deception to create public support based upon lies and disinformation.

Unfortunately that leaves us with few alternatives for finding the truth of things.

The Social Media Battle Ground

As governments begin to intrude into the social media space as part of their effort to advocate and inform our opinions we will all face some interesting challenges.

We will have to sort through the wild collection of:

  • Informed opinion,
  • Uniformed opinion,
  • Advocacy, and
  • Disinformation and Deception.

Fake public interest and “support” is increasingly well known in social media. Indeed, in some instances it is openly encouraged.

I don’t have any answers on this, but the basic truth is that more transparency (observation of the truth) can only help. And social media, indeed any media, can be an essential tool to improve situations.  I’ve talked about this here and here.

Cutting through the fictitious public comment/support/protests will be an increasing challenge.

But where “traditional” reporters are only paid to report the sexy, violent or sensational, where is the actual transparency and accountability that is needed to influence good behavior?

Traditional media is simply not enough. I’ll take the disorganized mob of social media over “traditional media.”

I look forward to your thoughts.

Brian Pinkowski

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If you are looking for everyday tools to help you in your fight against corruption – try these:






Most of Us Work in Anti-Corruption

Cover-NewToolsforFightingCorruptioninOrganizationsOne way or another, most of us work in anti-corruption. As part of law enforcement, as government employees, as members of the private sector, community groups and even in families – at one time or another, almost all of us are involved in trying to make things better.

My own journey in anti-corruption is not very different from your own in that it has been driven by the urge to help make things better. Continue reading “Most of Us Work in Anti-Corruption”