Maintaining Your Virtual Integrity: An Interview with Daniel Lohrmann, CTOBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Daniel J. Lohrmann, author of Virtual Integrity (Brazos Press, 2008) is an award-winning computer expert. As Michigan's chief technology officer, he directs over 750 technical staff in the State of Michigan's Infrastructure Services Administration. This is a continuation of his discussion with TheHighCalling.org about how Christians can maintain their virtual integrity in the workplace.
What is integrity theft?
The Internet is an incredible tool that can help companies offer new products and services, become more efficient and improve communication. At the same time, new temptations towards the dark side of the net are emerging every day.
Everyone has heard about the dangers of identity theft. Integrity theft is similar, but rather than your money being at risk, you can lose your reputation as a result of online actions. I have seen colleagues sacrifice years of education and put their careers in jeopardy for a few moments in cyberspace. Every day in America, people are disciplined for unacceptable online behavior at work, and many lose their jobs. Worse than that, I've witnessed marriages that end, families that split, church ministries torn apart, and staff arrested and put in jail.
Why do we need to worry about integrity theft?
I'm sure that Internet surfers never suspect that their online activity could end up with tragic consequences when they started. Yes, these individuals made wrong decisions, but I call it "integrity theft" because most people underestimate the impact of their virtual activity. They foolishly think "cyber sins" don't count the same.
Proverbs 7:22-23 says it this way: "All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life."
Just as we take steps to protect sensitive information, we need to take steps to protect our personal integrity in cyberspace. Most of us ensure that our credit card statements are accurate, personal data is encrypted as it traverses the Internet, etc. In the same way, we need to understand and protect ourselves from the lurking cyber threats to our Christian character.
Elaborate on how you see ethical and moral lines being increasingly blurred in cyberspace by Christians who use the Internet in their work environments.
At work, we are given powerful technology tools that can touch lives on the other side of the planet in an instant. But is our online marketing offered in ethical ways? Are we honest in relationships or are we being deceptive? While there are gray areas, many businesses push dangerous approaches.
As you surf the net at work, where are your eyes drawn? What messages are coming through? While previous marketing approaches were broadcast to everyone via TV, new approaches are much more specific. Ads target various audiences using information like age, surfing tendencies, location, gender or buying patterns. You may end up somewhere you never intended to go five minutes earlier. These personalization techniques are being used for good and evil.
On a more personal level, there is a tendency to justify online activities at work with excuses like "everyone is doing it." Thinking that virtual decisions don't count the same as "real world" actions, Christians conveniently rename immoral activities. Plagiarism becomes copying text, stealing becomes downloading files, lying becomes protecting yourself—often without a second thought.
What's virtual trespassing?
Virtual trespassing is just like physical trespassing—except it occurs in cyberspace. For example, we are not required to allow someone into our house if we think they will harm our family. While online laws are different, similar laws exist to protect children from cyber predators. There are also protections from spam, fraudulent or deceptive practices, and other online activities.
Everyone is entitled to a workplace which does not discriminate against their religious beliefs. Just as posting pornographic pictures on the walls at work could lead to lawsuits for a hostile work environment, staff cannot be required to visit online websites which violate their religious values or beliefs.
How does virtual trespassing occur?
Virtual trespassing occurs when content enters your digital space (devices such as your home PC, work laptop, or mobile device) that violates your values and beliefs. If you had your way, you would not view this content. At work, you should not be asked to perform actions and/or view material that conflicts with your Christian faith. No doubt, mistakes are still made. I recommend addressing these situations as quickly as possible so that you are not asked to continually compromise or tolerate actions if you deem them to be unethical or immoral.
As we move forward, I expect to see more situations where employees feel that their religious beliefs are threatened online at work. Companies like Google claim they will "do no evil," but who's definition of evil is used? As "cloud computing" matures and businesses are offered "free" office applications like email if their staff just watch ads and commercials, who decides what's allowed? The desire to cut technology costs could lead to the marketing of evil at work.
How does one develop an e-conscience?
In 1 Timothy 1:18-19, Paul told Timothy to "fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith." We are in a daily battle to keep a clear conscience, and this pertains to every area of life. Remember that Jesus repeatedly described lust as a matter of the heart. Our thought-life is clearly the first step towards our actions which become habits.
How does one refresh their values in cyberspace?
There are essentially three steps in this process:
- Reexamine offline (or "real-world") values/beliefs based upon the Bible.
- Compare and contrast online and offline thoughts and behaviors.
- Establish a list of values and behaviors for online life.
As you spend time to work through this process in detail, you will strengthen your e-conscience. You will see how God's Word applies to various online activities and actions. Sadly, most people have a different code of conduct for online life than they do for the real world.
Why does one's Google reputation matter?
Most companies now do an online search for content as part of their background check on applicants before hiring staff. This is a part of the reference check process. If there is content online that shows you in "inappropriate situations," your chances of being hired will be diminished. Remember that the Internet has a great memory.
Beyond the hiring process, your professional reputation and the reputation of your business or government office is also at stake. Imagine the bad press when a security breach happens at a bank. That bad press hurts their trust with customers. Negative publicity can cost the bank significant time and money to correct.
In the same way, our personal reputation is at stake every time you visit cyberspace. This can be a positive or negative aspect to your career. Professional blogs or other content can enhance your career and establish you as an authority on a topic over time. However, be careful to follow company policies and procedures. There are many stories of emails, text messages, and even "Tweets" (from Twitter.com) causing problems or being used in lawsuits around the country. Our goal is to be above reproach at the office regarding these matters. There is no doubt that others are watching to see if actions match our words—especially online.
Some might say that imposing any online controls goes against the concept of free by taking on this Big Brother mentality. Your response?
Our information is all over the place right now. Many people freely provide information to websites like eHarmony, eBay, eBanks, Christian websites, blogs, Facebook, Amazon.com, and others. They provide this data in order to gain efficiency (time), better service, or a lower price. While we need more options for those who desire increased privacy, we also need options for those who want to securely share information to gain benefits. Facebook's popularity demonstrates this point well.
I am a supporter of better enforcement of online privacy laws, since many companies misuse our data or don't clearly spell out what they will do with the information they collect. But building end-to-end trust cannot be accomplished if everyone is anonymous. Our virtual experiences in cyberspace will become more and more like real-life experiences, and in the real world I want to know who I am dealing with.
How do you suggest we find a balance here?
Think of the Internet as our new digital superhighway system. We have many freedoms on our roads, but we also have many laws. There are numerous parallels between roads and the Internet, including the need for good training, ensuring safety, and accepted codes of conduct.
At work, you must remember that the network belongs to your business. Courts have upheld that there is generally no presumption of privacy on company networks, and you must abide by acceptable use policies, as long as policies are clear and equally enforced. So remember, there are no "personal" messages at work—according to the law.
I also agree that controls alone will never solve our problems. There are thousands of ways to get around filters and controls, and we cannot rely on technology alone to solve online problems. Solutions must address people, heart issues, repeatable processes, and technology.
<< Read Part 1 of our interview with Daniel Lohrmann: Surfing Your Values