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Common Information

Shortly after September 11, 2001, the United States began requesting additional financial information about persons of interest by subpoenaing records located at the SWIFT banking consortium. SWIFT, which routes trillions of dollars a day, faced an ethical dilemma: fight the subpoenas in order to protect member privacy and the group's reputation for the highest level of confidentiality, or, comply and provide information about thousands of financial communications in the hope that lives will be saved. SWIFT decided to comply in secret, but in late June 2006, four major U.S. newspapers disclosed SWIFT's compliance. This sparked a heated public debate over the ethics of SWIFT's decision to reveal ostensibly confidential financial communications.

Analyzing the situation in hindsight, three ethical justifications existed for not complying with the Treasury Department's requests. First, SWIFT needed to uphold its long-standing values of confidentiality, non-disclosure, and institutional trust. The second ethical reason against SWIFT's involvement came with inadequate government oversight as the Treasury Department failed to construct necessary safeguards to ensure the privacy of the data. Third, international law must be upheld and one could argue quite strongly that the government's use of data breached some parts of international law.

Although SWIFT executives undoubtedly considered the aforementioned reasons for rejecting the government's subpoena, three ethical justifications for complying existed. First, it could be argued that the program was legal because the United States government possesses the authority to subpoena records stored within its territory and SWIFT maintained many of its records in Virginia. Second, it is entirely possible that complying with the government's subpoena thwarted another catastrophic terrorist attack that would have cost lives and dollars. Third, cooperating with the government did not explicitly violate any SWIFT policies due to the presence of a valid subpoena. However, the extent of cooperation certainly surprised many financial institutions and sparked some outrage and debate within the financial community.

While SWIFT had compelling arguments both for agreeing and refusing to cooperate with the U.S. government program, even in hindsight, it is impossible to judge with certitude the wisdom and ethics of SWIFT's decision to cooperate as we still lack answers to important questions such as: what information did the government want? What promises did the government make about data confidentially? What, if any, potentially impending threats did the government present to justify its need for data?

Q.

Common Information Question: 6/7

The primary purpose of the given passage is to:

 A.

Explain the extent of SWIFT's cooperation with the U.S. government in tracking financial transactions

 B.

Trace the origin of public outrage, especially among international financial institutions, over SWIFT's cooperation with U.S. authorities

 C.

Argue that the absence of information and the presence of ethical complexities make judging SWIFT's decision difficult at best

 D.

Argue that SWIFT's decision amounted to a compromise of SWIFT's principles

 E.

Provide historical background on a difficult ethical dilemma

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Solution:
Option(C) is correct

From the very beginning, the author is analyzing a situation and explaining the pros and cons of a difficult ethical decision.

In concluding comments that draw together previous points the author made (i.e., pros and cons), the author writes: "While SWIFT had compelling arguments both for agreeing and refusing to cooperate with the U.S. government program, even in hindsight, it is impossible to judge with certitude the wisdom and ethics of SWIFT’s decision to cooperate as we still lack answers to important questions."

A. Since the passage focused on ethical pros and cons of cooperation, there is very little information about the extent of SWIFT's cooperation. In the last paragraph, the author notes that a judgment about the ethics of SWIFT's decision cannot be made because answers to questions such as the extent of cooperation remain unanswered.

B. The passage merely notes that some members of the public expressed outrage and debate ensued. No information is given in the passage about the exact source of the outrage (e.g., specific pieces of information that were disclosed, certain laws that were broken). Without this, there is no information about the origin of public outrage. 

C. In the concluding paragraph, the author builds upon the ethical arguments for and against cooperation and concludes that "it is impossible to judge with certitude the wisdom and ethics of SWIFT’s decision to cooperate" until questions are answered. The idea this quote expresses is captured by this answer choice.

D. The passage actually concludes its argument by saying that "it is impossible to judge with certitude the wisdom and ethics of SWIFT’s decision".

E. The passage is filled with ethical pros and cons, not a historical storyline.


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