Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Monday, February 7, 2011

So This Guy Walks in and Says...

Madam's nag last week had to do with the incautious handling of sensitive paperwork.  But what about incautious speech?

What could be more amusing than to relate the latest you-won't-believe-what-this-one-did Crazy Amcit story? There are times when we could be excused for believing that our resident Americans could not possibly have thought that up all on his own, and we can't help but wonder what the heck he was thinking of. And we could, briefly, be excused for believing that this will make a great story to tell colleagues and co-workers in the cafeteria, the elevator, anywhere we gather.

And so it might.  But please don't do that.

The Privacy Act of 1974 and 7 FAM 060 are extremely specific about who can be told what about Americans and their antics. And while most of these references concentrate on official documentary records, any note a consular officer has jotted down and stuck into a folder or onto a computer screen is part of those records. In practice, so is anything the American told a consular officer that hasn't been written down yet.

Can you tell the story if you leave out identifying information such as the person's name?

Consider: you can't be certain that a listener won't be able to connect the story with a specific individual. She might have seen him walk into the section and might know him from church, from the neighborhood, from the Hash. She might know details about his life that make him immediately recognizable. Even without any obvious identifying data, release of any information to another USG employee - even another consular employee - is still limited by the need to know.

It is routine for consular officers to discuss cases among themselves. Such discussions can serve as excellent learning and training tools. But be very wary about disclosing anything about any case involving an Amcit or LPR, even to closest colleagues. If you couldn't clearly and lucidly explain the sound professional reason behind this disclosure in front of a Congressional inquiry, think twice.

Of course, only Americans and LPRs are protected by the Privacy Act.  But might that very funny visa applicant be a friend, relative or countryman of a local staff member who happens to be within earshot?

Maybe we could talk about the political section's latest stunningly clever dimarche instead.  Or the weather.

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