The Federal Government and Rule Following

On Monday afternoon the House of Representative passed a bill from Rep. David Valadao, stopping the federal government from mailing letters that include people’s social security numbers. The matter was first brought to Valadao’s attention when he received a complaint from a constituent who had it printed on the outside of the envelope. Under this bill, no federal agency is allowed to send people mail that includes their social security number unless it is necessary. It also requires the government to create regulations that explain when these situations are and ensures that the numbers cannot be seen on the outside.

I am astonished that the government would have even sent mail with visible social security numbers in the first place. It is unsafe, unethical, and unacceptable that this was even a problem to begin with. How can our government, that is in charge of so much sensitive information, be so careless as to print our identities on our mail? This instance should be of great concern for American citizens, not just because of the government’s carelessness with our personal information, but because they are simply just following the rules.

According to Michael Davis, there are many wrong way to follow the rules. It is unclear which form this falls under without know the circumstances for the situation, however it could fall under blind obedience, strict obedience, or maybe negligent obedience. Blind obedience is following the rules without thinking about the context and strict obedience is following the rules without thinking about the consequences. It would be easy to think that subordinates could be doing what they are told without really thinking about what they are doing or the fact that it could potentially lead to identity fraud. It can also be considered negligent obedience, which is failure to exercise due care, or acting consciously and morally optimally.

Davis defines the right way to follow the rules as interpretive obedience. This means not just thinking about what the rule says, but also what it means in different contexts and their purposes. In the case of the social security numbers being mailed, one would think that practicing interpretive obedience would be the obvious thing to do. Everyone in America has one in order to provide financial security and it is shared with very few people. It should then be common sense that private information should not be placed where just anyone can see it. Government officials are American citizens too, so they should understand how serious the situation is. It is dumbfounding that no one practiced interpretive obedience and realized the harm and outrage this could cause. This also shows just how important it is to follow the rules in the right way.


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