We Are All the NSA: Can You Handle the Power?

Big Brother -- now known as the NSA (National Security Agency) -- is watching your every move online. The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars building out the NSA's spy capabilities. Now here's the ironic twist: In some ways, all of us now have NSA-type powers at our fingertips. The big ethical question (whether you're an employer, an entrepreneur, or even a parent ) is just how much of that power should you use?

For pennies on the dollar, parents can monitor their kids' online moves using tools like TeenSafe. Pay for the SaaS subscription, and you can view your kids' text messages -- including deleted messages. You can monitor your teen's iPhone location. You can check their contacts, call logs, web browsing history and so much more.

But should you do all that, and more? Some parents vote no. Others vote yes. Either way, opinions on both sides of the aisle are strong. Call me a moderate on the issue... I basically believe in a trust but verify approach. I don't scour my kids' accounts, but I do have the data just in case I ever need to address an issue before smoke turns into fire.

Meanwhile, the situation is vastly different in the corporate world. At this point, employees should assume that every form of communication is monitored, recorded, and archived for the long haul. From your IP address, to your keystrokes, to your texts on a company supplied smart phone -- assume zero privacy

During a recent trip to Marist College, I heard a lot about business ethics -- how today's students are being educated and trained with business ethics in mind. For business students, every semester includes "Ethics Week" -- at which time students and industry professionals discuss "timely and relevant ethical issues for business management."

I wonder: How many of those students will become entrepreneurs and employers with endless IT powers at their fingertips? And will they manage that power wisely?

As the old saying goes, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. Today's IT monitoring tools deliver that absolute power. Privacy rights advocates are working hard to fight back against that absolute power, and describing workplace privacy protections -- or lack thereof. 

At a time when we wall worry about the NSA potentially abusing its power, perhaps it's time to take a hard look in our own mirrors as well. We've all got absolute IT power. We're in an IT spying arms race against peer businesses. Against our own employees. Against parents down the road or across town who may, ironically enough, be spying on our own kids' communications.

I'm not sure where the arms race will end.