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The Limits of Rules

By Vasant Raval, DBA, CISA, ACMA
| Published: 5/11/2015 3:06 PM | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (0)

Recently, with the goal of combating anorexia, French lawmakers voted in favor of a measure that would ban excessively thin fashion models from the runway and potentially fine their employers. The law would forbid anyone under a certain body mass index (BMI) from working as a runway model. In addition to protecting models from the risk of being thin at any cost, the law would indirectly (ideally) protect adolescents from aspiring to be like fashion models and possibly developing eating disorders. So, a new set of rules is born in France. Although not directly relevant to information ethics, this story highlights the role of rules in everyday life. My recent Journal column has examples of rules as they relate to information ethics.

Rules are everywhere. People, organizations, institutions and the government—they all make rules. Rules often originate in the trust void, for if everyone behaved, no rules would be necessary. So the idea behind rules is to rein in the hawks and encourage the doves to do what is judged by the rule maker as the right thing. 

Granted, rules make life easier even for doves. Because of the rules, they know what is expected and abide accordingly. Less communication is necessary, there is less chaos and a more organized society, and a lower cost of doing business, all because rules work to establish expectations that produce trust.

But the rules work like a double-edged sword. People subject to rules may want to know who set the rules and why the rules should be obeyed. They argue that the rule maker did not set the rules properly and they challenge the authority of the rule maker. In the case of fashion models in France, SYNAM, a model agency trade organization, vehemently rejects the French lawmakers’ idea, suggesting that models are thin, not sick. Besides, the rules that apply in France—the world’s capital of fashion modeling—may not apply to foreign models, thus weakening local entrepreneurship. The rule makers, on the other hand, point to Israel, Italy and Spain where similar measures are already in place.

Although we may be past the point of debate on whether we should have rules or no rules, several questions remain. Do rules engender ethical behavior? Who should set the rules? Under what conditions is it appropriate for the rule maker to exercise this right? Should rules have a sunset date? What happens to all of the obsolete rules that lurk around and are still supposed to be in effect? 

What do you think? When would you obey and under what conditions are you likely to defy rules? Do you see a solution to this problem? Please share your thoughts on the limits of rules.

Read Vasant Raval’s recent ISACA Journal column:
Information Ethics: The Limits of Rules,” ISACA Journal, volume 3, 2015.

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