A conspiracy is when two or more people communicate or act in a manner that affects others. Usually when we think of conspiracy we’re thinking of something that benefits the well being of the conspirators at the expense of the public; or perhaps it could be done for ideological grounds; but when it comes to proprietary information we’re usually talking about business so this is generally for profit.
(This was first posted on Open Salon in March of 2011; it is just as aplicable today.)
(This was first posted on Open Salon in March of 2011; it is just as aplicable today.)
In business there are generally speaking at least three groups of people participating, the business owners, the working class and the consumers. Most proprietary laws are designed to ensure that only the business owners have access to all the information they need to make good decisions. In addition to these three groups there are also a variety of other groups including organizations that are created to protect the environment, the health of the public, animal rights, child labor etc.; for the most part these groups have very little political power or rights to access the information they need to participate in democracy.
Proprietary information is supposed to protect innovation for the benefit of the inventor but it has wound up being used mainly to cover up just about everything the business community does to hide fraud and even criminal activity. This ranges from the very simple and seemingly trivial to much more important things. A simple thing might be the possibility that they increase the percentage of water in a bottle of shampoo to increase profits; for the consumer this is trivial and after it happens a few times it is annoying but it doesn’t seem like a big deal. This hardly seems like something to worry about until you consider the fact that this type of behavior is happening in every industry across the board; the cumulative effect of all these little things adds up to big profits for the corporations and big losses for the consumers.
In larger examples it is used to hide the safety problems for many industries including the oil and nuclear industries. The disasters including the Gulf oil spill and the recent Japanese nuclear disaster are partly a result of the fact that proprietary information is routinely used to keep just about anything and everything that might influence the profits of industry secret. Without access to proprietary information the public has no way of knowing how safe anything is. These are just a small example of the problems made public additional ones include the Goodyear tire problems that were exposed twelve years ago, the Toyota acceleration problem exposed more recently and many other disasters that are routinely exposed then swept under the rug and forgotten without any action to change or even discuss the extreme proprietary laws we have.
One of the most widely publicized incidents of misuse of proprietary information was when Jeffery Wigand blew the whistle on B&W for their research into manipulating nicotine as well as research in how to manipulate children and market to them. The tobacco companies went even farther and used their attorneys to conduct a large amount of their business when they thought they might not be able to rely on proprietary laws alone so they could also rely on attorney client privilege. Neither of these are supposed to cover criminal activity but in practice they almost certainly do. They even sued or threatened to sue anyone who would broadcast the information Wigand revealed. This information was revealed anyway but only just barely; and there are many other things that haven’t been revealed about many other industries.
Proprietary information is also being used to conduct an enormous amount of research that affects the public; in many cases they don’t even ask the public when they conduct research on them. The pharmaceutical companies presumably do ask permission when they conduct their drug trials in the USA, many of the more dangerous trials are probably done elsewhere, but they don’t provide more information that they have to. When it comes to advertising and marketing research for the most part they don’t ask at all. They are essentially studying how to manipulate the public in secret. This is true even when it comes to researching little children as Juliet Schor reported in “Born to Buy.” Corporations are literally teaching children to begin researching each other and marketing to each other starting at a younger age all the time and a large amount of this is kept secret due to proprietary information but they couldn’t keep all of it secret.
For the most part the government routinely declines to pass laws to protect the public from liability in many cases instead they pass many laws that the public isn’t aware of to protect the corporations right to conduct one scam after another.
No sincere democracy would ever allow these extreme proprietary laws to be passed; if the public was truly involved and informed about these laws they would never stand up to scrutiny. There needs to be a serious discussion about this subject and this discussion shouldn’t be controlled by the Mass Media which is owned by the same corporations that are benefitting from these laws. The current laws are not designed to protect the privacy or rights of the majority of the public; instead they are designed to enable the corporations to get away with as much as the public will stand idly by and tolerate.
The traditional Mass Media often describes conspiracy theorists as a bunch of whacko’s and in many cases some of them are but they routinely throw the credible ones into the same category to discredit them by association and they often use ridicule to dismiss them. However in some cases, when it suits their purposes they seem to use the real definition of a conspiracy. The difference seems to be how much political power the target has; if the target has power the conspirator is ridiculed if not the conspiracy may be accepted with little or no scrutiny. The honest way to address the issue involves sorting through the details and checking the facts.
update: Is it a conspiracy to expose conspiracy?
While searching the internet about the association between proprietary information and conspiracy I found several pages that seem to indicate that the primary association involves conspiracy to steal proprietary information; they don’t as I have indicated acknowledge the obvious fact that proprietary information is by definition is a conspiracy. Instead they seem to imply that the bigger problem is people that steal proprietary information. The cases that I found at the top of the search for “Proprietary information conspiracy” excluding this blog didn’t involve people that were charged with stealing proprietary information for the purpose of exposing it to the public; however the same principles and laws could just as easily be used for that purpose. Instead there were a couple articles about people that were charged with allegedly stealing proprietary information for the purpose of making a profit off of it in a new company or selling it to another company. This is what is generally referred to as corporate espionage. Even though this may not seem to directly impact the public it almost certainly does one way or another. First of all court costs have to be paid one way or another and on top of that the tax payer has to pay the lawmakers that make these proprietary laws in the first place. I would hope that the court costs are being charged to the businesses that benefit from these proprietary laws; however I doubt it; which would make this a clear case of corporate welfare if the tax payer has to pick up the tab to protect corporate secrecy. Even if the tax payer doesn’t have to pay for the court costs they almost certainly have to pay for this secrecy in one way or another. This is probably the bigger problem since the laws are designed to ensure that the public doesn’t know what is going on as well as the business competitors they claim to be protecting it from. In fact in many cases proprietary information is much more easily available to the competitors than the public. In order to determine whether or not this information involves fraud or a danger to the health of the public, as indicated previously, the public has to have access to the information. We are relying on the business community to decide what information they can keep secret and these laws could just as easily be used to cover up fraud; in fact that is exactly what they are being used for.
A couple of the sites that I located include TCW sues former investment chief Gundlach, alleging conspiracy and theft and McCann Investigations: Discovering Conspiracy in Due Diligence with Computer Forensics; these involve stealing information for personal gain. The following quote from McCann investigation may sum op the way the business community portrays it; “One of the most common acts of conspiracy against a company is the exporting of proprietary information. This could be by a departing sales person who is stealing a client list. Or it can be an employee leaving the company to start their own business and copying proprietary files. Most recently, there was a Wall Street Journal article about a Goldman Sachs ex-programmer was sentenced to 8 years for stealing a confidential source code for a high speed trading program.” They don’t consider the best interest of the public at all and in the case where someone is put in jail for eight years this is almost certainly at the expense of taxpayers. Another site includes a description of the Economic Espionage Act; A TOOL FOR FIGHTING ECONOMIC ESPIONAGE: Federal Law Criminalizes Misappropriation of Trade Secrets and as indicated in my blog about Obama suppressing education and protecting corporate secrecy he would like to strengthen these laws according to the ADMINISTRATION’S WHITE PAPER ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT LEGISLATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS (PDF may take a minute to download). These laws are being made with little or no input from the vast majority of the public. Also another site indicates that this is creating a vast industry which has to be paid for one way or another, “Conspiracy” Clauses in Software Contracts. The public may not have to directly pay for these businesses that sell their services to other industries; however the industries that pay for it have to recoup their investment one way or another and that inevitably much come from the public one way or another.
However, as indicated in the opening comment, that isn’t the biggest potential problem. These laws and the assumption that people involved in stealing this information are potentially guilty of criminal conspiracy could just as easily be used against those that are exposing information, often involving activity that is or should be illegal, for the benefit of the public at large. This has almost certainly been done in the past and in many cases many people that may have wanted to expose unethical activity may have been deterred by them. Examples where either these laws or similar ones have been used for this purpose include, Daniel Ellsberg, Jeffrey Wigand, Bradley Manning and others. They have as indicated previously, also made it much more difficult for people like Juliet Schor to investigate activity that is clearly detrimental to the health of children. By presenting the right of corporations to conduct their activity secret, even when it involves infringing on the right to privacy of the rest of us or corrupt activity, almost as a divine right they are enabling those with access to this information to manipulate and defraud the rest of us with impunity. They’re also portraying those who would expose this type of activity as the criminal conspirators; which should be considered highly inappropriate to any rational person. They repeat this over and over again as if proprietary information is not the same as a conspiracy by avoiding any sincere attempt to provide definitions to the two and allow scrutiny of them in an open and high profile forum and they have potentially implied that those that would expose criminal activity are the criminals instead of the other way around. The government is using laws about proprietary information to control the distribution of information that the public needs in order to make important decisions in a similar way to the way they use copy right laws as discussed in copyright violators are thought criminals. This seems like something out of 1984
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is strength
Conspiracy is not conspiracy
Exposing conspiracy is conspiracy
While preparing to repost this I came across the following speech from Charles Darrow that was made close to a hundred years ago and thought it was worth quoting from; and the whole speech is worth reading as well.
A conspiracy is when two or more people communicate or act in a manner that affects others.
Sometimes it really is a conspiracy.
“How Corporations Prey on Our Children” by Gary Ruskin
Article on how corporations research and manipulate children by Juliet Schor
Excerpts from “Born to Buy” by Juliet Schor
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