One of the most important and deeply discussed aspects of business and operating within a business is that of ethics. Ethics involves the moral responsibility of companies and individuals to act and behave, as well as what constitutes proper behavior. As is evidenced by many famous court cases and scandals throughout the business world, the preservation of ethics is something which the general public deeply values and wishes to hold present over companies as they develop and evolve. Within the United States, ethics is largely centered around the doctrines which the country was founded upon and ensuring that the civil liberties of the common individual are not altered or destroyed. In terms of security and ethics issues, the idea of surveillance and what constitutes legal surveillance and inversely, legal privacy has been a large aspect of the discussion of social and political ethics in recent history.
This is the central theme of the article “Secret Cameras Record Baltimore’s Every Move From Above” in Bloomberg Businessweek. The focal point of the article is that of Persistent Surveillance and the association that the company has with the police department and general public of Baltimore. According to the article, this company, founded by Ross McNutt, has been secretly engaging in surveillance via airborne drones for the Baltimore Police Department for months. (Reel, Monte, 2016) Given the discussions in the chapters of the relevant course text, the issue that comes to mind is the overall ethical position of Persistent Surveillance’s involvement in such an act and what this means in representation of the company itself. While it can be stated that McNutt believes that the public should be made aware of the planes and surveillance, and that he believes that it will be most effective if used transparently, as the article notes, there hasn’t been much in terms of any attempt to make the use of the drones available to the public on behalf of McNutt or the Baltimore Police Department. (Reel, Monte, 2016)

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The Nature of Ethics and History of Persistent Surveillance
Given the nature of the work that McNutt and his company provides and some of the history of the trade itself, it begs the question: is any of it ethical, and if not, why? There are several instances of ethical misconduct and examples that the textbook provides, such as “abusive and intimidating behavior, conflicts of interest, fairness and honesty, communications, misuse of company resources, and business associations.” (Ferrell; Hirt; Ferrell, 2012) In terms of the company’s history, as evidenced by the article, there are many instances which beg the question of the ethics behind any of the actions that are being conducted. For instance, as the article references, the company had already taken up a contract with the Los Angeles Police Department in 2012 to monitor Compton, a predominantly minority area just south of Los Angeles. (Reel, Monte, 2016) The city’s residents weren’t informed of the surveillance attempts and the flights until approximately one year later. (Reel, Monte, 2016)

Ethical Implications of Mass Surveillance
Furthermore, the leaders within the city, including the mayor, were uninformed of the surveillance that was being conducted. The flights were then altered and improved for a series of tests in Dayton, Ohio. (Reel, Monte, 2016) When the city agreed to the newly improved, more highly sophisticated versions of the planes, many leaders and individuals in the city came to oppose this idea, including Joel Pruce, a human rights studies professor at the University of Dayton. (Reel, Monte, 2016) Again, much like in the Los Angeles case, the interests of the public weren’t taken into consideration prior to signing the contract and testing the technology. As a result of the outcry and backlash from the community, the city dropped the idea to hire the company. The essential components of the conversation as a result pertain to the nature of the “communications” and “fairness and honesty” aspects of ethics, as listed above. (Ferrell; Hirt; Ferrell, 2012)

The spread of misinformation or lack of information that is given to the public can largely be seen as an ethical dilemma and a form of misconduct. According to the text, 12% of members of the U.S. workforce who observed some sort of ethical misconduct had witnessed employers and businesses lying to customers, vendors or the public. (Ferrell; Hirt; Ferrell, 2012) Given that on several instances, including the most recent case in Baltimore, it is evident that the public had not been properly informed of the surveillance being conducted upon them until after the fact. This in itself is a questionable practice and constitutes a major ethical concern for Persistent Surveillance. As described and defined in the chapter, “the acceptability of behavior in business is determined by not only the organization but also the stakeholders such as customers, competitors, government regulators, interest groups, and the public.” (Ferrell; Hirt; Ferrell, 2012)

Ethical Implications of Misinforming the Public
Many of the aspects pertaining to the company allude to a lack of proper information or dissemination of information. This is evidenced by the article stating that the only public acknowledgment of the office that the company was using was a piece of paper taped to its door that read “Community Support Program.” (Reel, Monte, 2016) This mirrors another issue that has recently hit Baltimore involving the police department’s use and reliance on StingRays, cell phone simulators, without issuing or using any official warrant. (Reel, Monte, 2016) The issue was found to be in violation of federal law and predominantly “targeted minorities.” (Reel, Monte, 2016) Even during this time, the actions of the surveillance company were not made publicly aware.

The overall usage of the surveillance plane helped to implicate a man named Anthony Cooper in the shooting of two elderly individuals. (Reel, Monte, 2016) Yet, when the Baltimore Police Department released the image of Cooper alongside a statement that he was “Public Enemy #1” in the city, they neglected to show any information pertaining to the crime, outside of a picture of him carrying food and his cell phone. (Reel, Monte, 2016) This prompted the general public to question the nature of the implication, to which the police department did not reply with any sort of allusion to the surveillance practices. The entirety of the businesses’ practices are unethical in the sense that the general public is not involved or informed in any way with the dealings that pertain to them or the measures through which the company goes to track them. Furthermore, given many of the controversial issues of this current age, the use of unmanned security and surveillance drones and planes has led to a large outcry in itself from the public. This article is relevant to the issues discussed in the text, in that it presents and analyzes a firsthand account of the nature of ethics and a case in which a company is practicing what could constitute unethical decisions.

  • Ferrell, O.C.; Hirt, Geoffrey; Ferrell, Linda (2012) “M: Business 3rd” McGraw-Hill Higher Education. 3rd edition.
  • Reel, Monte (2016) “Secret Cameras Record Baltimore’s Every Move from Above.” Bloomberg Businessweek. August 23, 2016. Web.