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logo    Employee Blogging and Fundamental Freedoms

In "Employee blogging a growing source of concern," Lisa Tanner does a nice job of putting together a lot of nonsense into a piece that seems to make sense. Had she given her subject more thought, however, she would have written a different article.

True, companies do have a need to keep their trade secrets confidential. However, the two major segments of the American economy are the retail and services sectors, and no company in either of these sectors can legitimately claim to have trade secrets. So if these companies are concerned about their employees' blogging, shouldn't someone ask, What are they truing to hide?

Manufacturing companies can have legitimate trade secretes, of course, but not all do, and most of the employees of these firms are not in positions in which trade secrets are revealed. So any fear these companies have is not increased by blogging. Employees revealed trade secrets long before the internet came into existence, and it makes no difference whether the revealing employee is a blogger or not. A more genuine fear falls to companies that have offshored their manufacturing. Foreigners are far more likely to reveal those secrets than domestic employees are.

And there's a danger in restricting the free speech rights of employees. Any astute, prospective client can rightly wonder why such policies exist, what the companies are trying to hide, and how what they are hiding could affect the prospective client should he decide to do business with them. Remember that given the epidemic of disclosures of not just unseemly but even fraudulent behavior within a good number of major companies that had to then impeccable reputations, judicious suspicion would seem to be in order. After all, the companies that did business with Enron and MCI did not escape scott free.

The statement made by W. Stephen Cockerham is revealing, however: "Companies are concerned about the disclosure of . . . things that might prove embarrassing to executives,  customer (sic) or workers." This is a strange sentence. It doesnt say that companies are concerned with things that would prove embarrassing, it says that they are concerned with things that even might be embarrassing. Now that covers a lot of stuff. What possible justification could anyone have for wanting to restrict employee behavior to that extent?

I suggest that if companies want to protect their reputations, the only fail-safe way of doing so is to deal with people--employees, clients, and vendors--honestly and fairly, and such behavior would never require one to place restrictions on the activities of employees, be they bloggers or not.

But this tendency to restriction has a more important and profound consequence, and the tendency is growing.

The Constitution prohibits the Congress from passing any law that restricts the rights of religion, speech, the press, and of assembly. But what good does it do to have such restrictions written into the Constitution if the nation's companies can restrict these rights? The protected right is lost regardless of the Constitution's guarantees. Does that make any sense?

Americans like to call this nation the land of the free, but over the last several decades, more and more activities have been  repressed, and each such act of repression eliminates a freedom previously possessed. If our employers can keep us from speaking freely, what else can they forbid us from doing? You have probably heard of the company in Ohio, I think, that required its employees to stop smoking even when not on the job. Some have defended this company. But if what this company is doing is okay, why can't K-Mart prohibit its employees from shopping at Wal-Mart? Why can't an employer prohibit its employees from attending a certain church, from associating with certain groups of people, or even from reading a certain newspaper? How would the publishers of the DBJ react to a company's forbidding its employees from reading it?

Oh, you say these things wont happen. Wanna bet?

These subtle repressions are subverting the Constitution, for it really doesn't matter where the repression originates. If a  Constitutional right  is suppressed, not by a Congressional act, but by some other societal entity, it is nevertheless suppressed. The freedom is gone. The Constitutional guarantee alone cannot protect it. The allowance of such activities renders the Constitution meaningless, and America becomes not the land of the free but the realm of the repressed. Wouldn't it be better for businesses to be embarrassed?

Americans need to open their eyes and ears, and a good journalist can help us do that. But that kind of journalism requires more than mere reporting; a bit of thought is also needed. (Dallas Business Journal 6/25/2005)