The recent release of private conversations by well-known figures in Israeli society – in this case members of the Netanyahu family- requires that we take a careful look at the ethical ramifications of such actions.
On the face value, release of a private conversation is by all accounts a direct attack on one’s personal right to be able to express themselves in private without fear of retribution.
But beyond it being a transgression of one’s individual rights to privacy, there is the broader implication on the social level that people will refrain from seeking out help or acting in their best interests – or the best interests of others- out of fear that their conversations might be recorded and released and then negatively impact them in one way or another.
This becomes all the more problematic when we are dealing with officials whose professions are linked to the well-being of others. Most obvious of course are medical professionals who are exposed on a daily basis to information that if known to the general public could be extremely detrimental to the person involved. And on the broader level, once people are robbed of the assurance that their medical details are being secured as private, they will be far less likely to seek out assistance when they need it.
When it comes to journalistic ethics and ethics surrounding law enforcement and the defense community, it is even perhaps even more clear why “leaks” can be deadly. There are no shortage of people who have died because information was callously leaked. And on a basic ethical level, it is clear why informants and sources deserve to know that their conversations will not become public knowledge.
But like in all aspects of ethical discourse, there are no absolutes.
In medicine, we can look to extreme cases where a physician knows that a patient is a carrier of a disease like HIV yet continues to threaten transmission through their irresponsible behavior. Or an epileptic who continues to drive while representing a threat to the public.
So we are forced to accept that when there is a public threat by remaining silent, ethical behavior mandates that we speak out.
To summarize, ethical deliberations are by no means a zero-sum game. Every case requires a careful analysis based on the good of the public as well as the good of the individual involved.
Returning to the public discourse surrounding the Israeli media in recent days and weeks, we must acknowledge that the release of the two recordings; first of Yair Netanyahu and more recently of Sara Netanyahu, were only designed to impact harm and had no obvious correlation to public safety.
The release of such recordings, clearly made and released without the intent or approval of the recorded parties, were directly intended to hurt the image of those involved. Arguably, no lives were being saved or protected by feeding the public’s desire to be shocked by sensational headlines.
As a society that promotes ethical behavior and strives to defend personal rights and interests, even of our public officials, it would therefore be prudent to act with heightened respect for those ideals.