13 August 2008

Legal Implications of Gathering Competitive Intelligence

From the world of competitive intelligence, comes this interesting bit
of speculation from the US
. It seems that there are concerns
about the legal liability of a firm in relation to any competitive
intelligence activities they undertake. I've been doing some work on CI
lately - in particular looking at using narrative to extract CI held
internally. (One thing that this does is make you a little bit paranoid
about things like blogging - what competitive intelligence might I give
away by talking about competitive intelligence. I can see how major
intelligence agency stuff can become so nutty. )

I've always thought that he really tricky legal implication might be the
'human intelligence' - the stuff you gather from people in the field. To
me, this is where the real wealth is, and where you are going to get the
legally questionable stuff if you undertake work to gather, analyse,
distribute, and act on it. Such an activity carries the inherent risk
that a bit of info gets passed around that really shouldn't have. Of
course, this is nothing new, but the use of narrative techniques to
gather this kind of information means that it is more likely to be
recorded and retrievable - I mean, that's the whole idea. And a
conversation that has been transcribed and stored on a hard drive is
much harder to deny any knowledge of (makes me wish that the briefings
to Howard Government ministers on SIEV-4, children overboard, and AWB to
name a few where undertaken using a narrative approach).

Previously though, I've had less concern around the stuff that's
publicly available because it's publicly available. A lot of the
information isn't overly useful on its own, and requires a lot of
gathering and analysis activity before it becomes intelligence. The
implication now is that the act of knowingly gathering this information
for purposes which are very nearly the antithesis of what it was
provided for - instead of selling a service, the information is being
used to guide a competitor on how to beat them to a sale - could be
illegal under current US laws. That makes a trick area of work just that
little bit trickier.

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