Years ago, when I was a kid just out of college at my first job, I had an interesting chat with the legal counsel for the world’s largest engineering and construction company. We were talking about ethics and business. [All of this was before Enron and WorldCom, before Michael Moore’s Sicko or the BP oil spill.]
As I recall, he called it the “New York Times Test” – which went something like this: if your actions or behavior show up on the front page of the New York Times, could you still face your family without embarrassment?
The point he was making was that it wasn’t about being legal or adhering to the law. Ethics was about doing the right thing above and beyond the law, because you’re going to judged by the standards set by your family, not the courts.
Today, we might just call this the WikiLeaks Test.
In other words, if you’re engaged in private activities which will cause you public grief – stop. Pretend all your actions are transparent – open to the public. For all you know, they already are!