I BELIEVE many of us have heard about cases of people leaking confidential information/documents to their friends, relatives or the press. First of all, let us refresh our minds a little in English Grammar. According to The Dictionary.com, the word “leak” could either be used as a noun or a verb. One of the definitions, when used as a verb is “To let a liquid, gas, light, etc enter or escape as through an unintended hole or crack.” (A scientific definition - Isn’t it?). I am however, more interested in another definition, which Dictionary.com gives as “To disclose secret, especially official, information anonymously”.
From the second definition, it is obvious that the person disclosing the information or giving out the classified document is unauthorized to do so. It is therefore not a surprise that he/she does so under the cover of darkness (anonymously and secretly).
The question is what could motivate someone to leak confidential information to others? I personally think that some do so for monetary gains. We now live in a world where some people could do anything for money. Two years ago, it was reported that a young man was arrested for attempting to sell his biological sick mother to be killed for rituals so he could become rich. Killing your own mother for money? Incredible! Another man was also arrested last year for attempting to sell his nephew for the same reason - to become rich.
The horrible and scaring stories about how some people undergo all kinds of spiritual rites including sleeping in coffins for days, not taking bath for months, etc, confirm how desperate some people could be to get rich quickly. There are several other cases of people impersonating, defrauding, robbing and in fact killing others to make money. To such people, if they could “steal” classified information, or a document, in exchange for few coins, why not?
The recent leakage of BECE examination questions which resulted in the cancellation of some papers has indeed affected not only the students involved but their parents emotionally, psychologically and financially. Of course, the incident has also, to some extent, dented the credibility of the body that is responsible for conducting the examinations in the country, and I personally think that they have to work hard for the general public to repose the expected confidence and trust in them since this is not the first time the unfortunate incident has occurred. I would be very much surprised if the motive behind the leakage of the papers is not what the French call “argent” (money).
But is money the only reason why some people leak classified or confidential information? Another reason, I believe, is sheer hatred, envy or jealousy. Because I do not like so and so, I would find ways and means of “destroying” him/her by putting in public domain certain information that I think could embarrass or subject the person to public ridicule. Such attitude is bad and has to be condemned.
There is a saying that you cannot prevent a bird from flying over your head but you can prevent it from making a nest on your head. Sociologists would attest to the fact that deviants would never cease to be in the society. No matter what we do, there would always be some people who would attempt to leak confidential information. That is the very reason why we should also try as much as possible to put the necessary measures in place to make it difficult, if not impossible for them to carry out their evil plans.
As an archivist, I believe one of the most effective and surest ways is to keep proper records.
It is not uncommon to see documents in some offices dumped haphazardly, with some on top of cabinets, on staircases, in store rooms with broken down furniture and crates of drinks as “roommates”. With this kind of disorganized office why won’t it be possible for unauthorized people to have access to confidential information/ documents?
There are few questions that need to be asked and for that matter answered. First of all, is anyone specifically assigned the responsibility of being in charge of records in offices? If yes, is the person given the necessary training in records management to be able to manage documents professionally? How effective and efficient is supervision of whoever is in charge of records? Are there CCVT cameras to monitor the activities of staff and visitors? Are there specific policies/ regulations regarding access, retrieval and filing of records? What kind of systems exist in organizations and companies as far as auditing of files is concerned?
Do companies/organisations have suitable and adequate storage facilities to store documents? In this era of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), are there any back ups of documents both in hard and soft copies so that in case somebody succeeds in “stealing” a copy, at least there would be other copies? In answering the above questions, we would be working towards ensuring that documents are safe.
Apart from the above records management concerns there are other things that are very important. One of them is loyalty and confidentiality. We cannot deny the fact that those who leak classified/ confidential information of companies and organisations are usually staff or members of those very organizations. Sometimes the outcome or the result of the leakage, unfortunately, is damaging and could have serious irreparable dent and consequences on the company. Such people should be reminded of the saying that the shame of the crocodile is also that of alligator.
The spirit of loyalty and solidarity should therefore be instilled in members of organizations and companies in order not to do anything that would bring the name of their organizations into disrepute. I have a colleague at my work place who, in fact, is a friend and a secretary to one of our General Managers. Despite my cordial relationship with her, she never disclosed any official information which is not meant for my consumption to me. She fully understands what confidentiality is and goes about her work professionally. We need such people in the society.
I suggest that anybody who would be caught for leaking unauthorized information should be punished severely to serve as a deterrent to others.
Let us have some sanity in our organizations and institutions as far as access to, and dissemination of information is concerned.
Writer’s E- mail: [email protected]
The writer is an archivist