Bank of America vs. WikiLeaks: Utilitarianism & Deontology

Bank of America refused to process payments and do business with WikiLeaks
Bank of America victory bond ad in San Francisco, California, 1943. Bank of America refused to process payments and do business with WikiLeaks. (Photo: Public Domain)

WikiLeaks and its disclosure of confidential information have become a controversy because of the sensitivity of such information. WikiLeaks planned to release information about a major U.S. bank. As a precautionary measure, Bank of America decided to investigate for possible leakage of information. The bank investigated computers that could be used as the source of information that WikiLeaks wanted to leak. The bank also developed measures to prevent espionage on the firm. Bank of America decided to refuse to process payments for and do business with WikiLeaks to protect itself from possible legal problems. This decision was based on suspicion that Bank of America would be the next WikiLeaks target.

This article discusses the ethical issues surrounding Bank of America’s decision to refuse to process payments and do business with WikiLeaks. The deontological and utilitarian ethical frameworks are used.

Utilitarianism on WikiLeaks and Bank of America

In utilitarianism, Bank of America’s decision to refuse to process payments and do business with WikiLeaks is evaluated based on two possible effects. The first effect is on the bank as a business. The second effect is on the United States as a society. Utilitarian ethics is focused on the utility or practical benefit of an act. Emphasis is on the effects of the act rather than the motives, and on the outcomes rather than the initial objectives.

Reduction of legal risks is a possible outcome of Bank of America’s refusal to process payments for and do business with WikiLeaks. The bank avoids doing business with violators of the law. Bank of America considered the possibility that WikiLeaks violates the law. This would mean that doing business with WikiLeaks could lead to legal problems for the bank. Bank of America decided to avoid doing business with WikiLeaks to prevent legal risks. The decision helps protect the bank and its investors from these legal problems. This decision also benefits shareholders and employees in terms of better stability of the business. Based on this outcome, most people involved in the situation are protected. The decision upholds the right of the people to life free from harm. This outcome shows that Bank of America’s decision is ethical under utilitarianism.

Protection of the people is another possible outcome of Bank of America’s decision to refuse to process payments for and do business with WikiLeaks. The activities of WikiLeaks disclosed sensitive or classified information. WikiLeaks threatens the safety and security of the American people. Bank of America’s decision reduces the means by which WikiLeaks gets resources. This decision limits WikiLeaks. The decision also satisfies the right of the people to a life free from harm. Thus, this outcome also shows that Bank of America’s decision is ethical under utilitarianism.

Deontology on WikiLeaks and Bank of America

In deontology, Bank of America’s action is evaluated on how it can be applied on all parties universally. In deontology, actions are ethical if they are universally acceptable to be done to all people, including the doer. An action is not ethical if it favors one or more people over others.

WikiLeaks supporters argue that Bank of America has the duty to process payments for WikiLeaks because WikiLeaks is a client. However, Bank of America’s decision to refuse to process payments and do business with WikiLeaks addresses public interest. Public interest is on safety and security of everyone in the country. Thus, in deontology, Bank of America’s decision is ethical because it is universally beneficial. The decision protects public interest and the rights of the people to safety and security in their lives.

Final Note

In utilitarianism, Bank of America’s decision to refuse to process payments and do business with WikiLeaks is ethical because it helps protect the American people and the bank. In deontology, the bank’s decision is also ethical because it supports the rights of the people to life free from harm. Therefore, Bank of America’s decision is ethical.

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