Confidentiality: Personal Choice or Professional code of conduct?
Recently, a young lady, new in the industry, raised a question in a social platform questioning the practice of, or if it is acceptable for, people in our industry dropping clients’ names in public. Surprisingly, many people who took part in the thread commented saying that they don’t find anything wrong with it. Some of them even named their own old clients. Some were trying to justify it by saying they don’t work for that specific client anymore, they didn’t reveal anything personal about the client, they have the client’s approval to post that picture or name the client, their client is super famous and paparazzi are always getting pictures of them together so why hide it. Essentially, they are good guys and how dare we criticize people we don’t know. These were a number of comments from individuals who either work in the security industry as operatives or own companies and hire agents to represent them.
Now, we all know that confidentiality has been a hot topic that raises many debates every time it’s laid on the table. And we see the ever-increasing need to have discussions about it nowadays, more than ever, due to the internet and the influence of social media. Merely saying that it is wrong to post a picture or name your client on public does not remotely infer that we are jealous of the clientele you have, it is certainly not because we want to talk bad about you or because we want to look better. The primary reason for it being discussed as wrong goes all the way back to the very basics of Risk Assessment and Dynamic Risk Assessment. Those who haven’t had the opportunity to be taught these topics in one of their EP schools should truly seek continuing education on it and those who fail to remember their training on how it can drastically affect the client’s safety, need to go back and re-study.
For a moment, let’s talk about risk factors and who may be after your client: Media representatives (journalists, paparazzi), stalkers, unhappy former employees, former wives, girlfriends, business associates, business antagonists, people he owes money to, kidnappers and the list can go endlessly on so, for brevity’s sake, let’s say, anyone who may want to harm him/her in any way, shape or form. That being stated, the person who is standing directly between that client and all these risk factors is you, and anyone who works in the security detail. By linking your name or putting an ID on the person who is standing next to that client in the picture frame is a risk by itself. How so? We will explain later.
Now, let’s address some of the individuals who have stated that these are acceptable practices. Confidentiality is quite always associated with the less than desirable actions and events that occur during a detail, “What happens on the detail, stays on the detail” sort of thing. We have a tendency to become complacent with many other aspects of the more pleasant, day to day occurrences, not feeling that they are of any importance in the overall aspect of security. One could not be more mistaken. Confidentiality is about ANYTHING that involves your client and their life, and whoever was involved or interacted with the security detail. It entails the complete protection of any/all kinds of information that someone might gain access to, who may want to harm him in some way, obtain something to use against him, or even harm his reputation.
How long must I maintain this confidentiality? Well, just because you worked for someone in the past doesn’t mean you can or should discuss any details about them or the fact you worked for them formerly. Having worked for someone means you now know critical information regarding their security detail, estate security, what kind of vehicles are used, how many people work for them, what are the skill sets of the current agents (basically how good they are), if they have any issues or weaknesses (divorces, custody battles, use of drugs and alcohol, illegal affairs …), etc. You also know where the client likes to “hang out”, where his good friends live, his personal family, and most importantly, you are aware of all the security ‘’gaps’’ and security protocols….these tiny gaps? We write about them in our reports and address them to our supervisors and most of the time no one cares to take them into consideration because of the budget, or because they don’t want to ‘’bother’’ the client’s routine or bring inconvenience to their daily life. So the complacent prefer not to change anything, and most of us have walked in security details where protocols (even radio call signs) haven’t been changed for years. So, having worked for someone in the past, even if you are no longer employed there now, doesn’t make it acceptable to talk about it, because you are in possession of important information that may harm or put anyone who worked for that client in a position to be blackmailed or harmed.
“I have the client’s approval to get a picture with him and even post it”. Let’s admit it, there is nothing more satisfying in our profession than to have a happy client who is OK with having a picture together. Yes, you can take that picture of the two of you, but for your own personal photo album if you like to keep one of those…Never to post in public. The client may be OK with it, but remember, the client hired YOU to protect THEM. They don’t know about security procedures and risk factors, and if you ask for a picture, they may think it is safe. You, however, as the security professional, the trained and educated one, must think and breath ‘’security’’. You alone are the one whose acts must always take into consideration the client’s and team’s safety.
Many inexperienced agents are misled to believe that since paparazzi are after their clients, their face is all over the media so why not post a picture? Well, the simple answer is, your face may be in those pictures, but you are just a face. A face doesn’t give an ID to that person standing next to your client, however, posting anywhere on the internet or in any type of social media platform absolutely does. So again, you’re putting a name with the face of the person who guards that client and thus presenting possible access to the client or their lives.
And to those who say we shouldn’t criticize someone we don’t know in person, please understand that you are critiqued for everything that potentially shows your professional attitude and performance. “Perception is reality” is more critical than you think. And for something like this, it only takes a misspoken statement in an interview or your personal opinion on social media. You are not necessarily judged if you are a good family person or a good friend. Someone must know you personally to have an opinion on those matters. But when it surrounds work, what you post, how you comment, and your professional behavior will be criticized and this fact spares no one.
In our line of work, we are the ones who must think and prepare for all threats and take needed measures to prevent worst-case scenarios. Depending on who your client is (or was) talking about them doesn’t necessarily cause life-threatening harm, but it can do damage in many other forms, which you as their security (past and present) must always protect them from, keeping them safe at all times. It may also harm anyone who worked along with you. Just think for a moment…If someone is threatening your child, blackmailing you or threatening someone you love, would you still be able to remain quiet, hold the information and not reveal what you know about that client? There are blackmail, extortion, and kidnappings that are never reported in the news. Predators will go after the ‘’weak’’ target…Showing that there are any weaknesses and that client is most likely a candidate.
The companies who have the biggest clients are not known to most of us and they most certainly don’t go by ‘’tacticool’’ logos or brand names. These companies use strict NDAs, and they are critical of how you carry yourself on social media platforms and some will even forbid you from having any significant social media presence. NDAs are there for a good reason, mostly to protect any/all the information you will gain while working for the client. There are many of our colleagues who work for HNW and UHNW individuals and you will never know their names. For example, you’ll never see anyone from some of Forbes Top 100 security teams ever mention where they work or for whom they provide protection services.
Where you work, or who you have worked for doesn’t say who you are as a professional, or how proficient you are. We have seen excellent professionals working for great clients and less than deserving individuals working for them as well. The name of your client or his social/celebrity status is not related to the level of your success by any means. Each detail has its own unique aspects. Consider the actual threat levels, the intricate advances required, the planning and realtime decisions that must be constantly made on the move. It’s NOT about you…Never was, never will be. It’s all about the client and the operational professionalism you and your team provide.
Most of the confidentiality issues come from people who have done celebrity protection. Rarely, if at all, will we see it with anyone who runs corporate security details, or works for foreign dignitaries or politicians. We all probably know a bad professional who said yes to a low paying job just to get that chance and get pictured next to a celebrity, but at the end of the day, you should measure your success by the fact you are still working as an EPO full time, it is your main income, you bring enough money home to your family and you are keeping your client and your team happy and safe.
It is up to us, the trained and educated security professionals, to identify a possible risk and minimize the threat level. Name-dropping our clients or unneeded selfies won’t make it any easier, and it always adds more risks. There are many colleagues, who think it is not a big thing naming or talking about your clients, but that becomes a liability and you yourself then become a liability as well. Tomorrow your work application may be rejected because someone saw how quick you talk publicly about your clients. You will find yourself passed over for another applicant who can remain quiet, over the simple fact that you can’t keep your ego aside. And you will always wonder why they didn’t hire someone like you who has more work experience and more tactical skills. The truth is, there are many companies who do truly care about confidentiality, and they not only see it as an ethical threat but as a very strict part of their professional code of conduct.
Think twice before you name your clients or post that picture on the public… it may very well leave you out of the loop!
Denida Zinxhiria Grow
Founder & CEO
Athena Worldwide LLC