Something is going on in social media that may be detrimental to the profession.

May 4, 2016 § 11 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Interpreters benefit from the use of the internet in many ways.  We can study, do research, market our services, and communicate with each other anywhere in the world by using our telephone.  Technology helps us to stay competitive in difficult markets and saves us time. Gone are the days when we had to go to a library to research a topic. We can now access the best libraries worldwide from the booth where we are working.

Social media also gave us the very popular and numerous forums, list serves, and chat rooms that all of us visit regularly.  I must confess that, even though I am very active in many social media outlets, I visit very few interpreter forums, and none of the list serves.  For me, the main reason to visit these forums is to keep up with the most recent news that impact the profession, so I can widen my knowledge and understanding of everything that is happening out there .  For the same reason, I am sometimes turned off by some of our colleagues who visit these virtual sites.  I have nothing against learning more about our language combinations, but sometimes it gets to me to see how some interpreters post basic vocabulary questions to the forum members without even bothering to do some research on their own first. I know this is popular with many, and we have discussed it in the past, so I will not dwell on this issue. Like I said, it turns me off, but it does not disgust me.

On the other hand, there is a relatively new trend going around several of the forums that I visit. A practice that has the potential to harm the profession, and end the career of those who participate or advocate this practice.

I am talking about those colleagues who post confidential, and sometimes what can be considered privileged information in the case of court interpreters. I am also referring to those who ridicule and make fun of their own clients.

Interpreting is a profession, and as such, it is governed by a series of legal, moral and ethical principles expected from all those who practice as professionals anywhere in the world. Legal, moral, and ethical rules and principles such as diligence, honesty, and confidentiality are an essential part of an interpreter’s job description. We cannot go around divulging the knowledge acquired in confidence. We are a fiduciary profession. It is not ethical for an interpreter to reveal secrete or confidential information. It is not ethical to share the client’s personal information and private life in public either.

These duties of privacy and confidentiality are even stricter in the case of a court interpreter. Let’s take the case of the United States where court interpreters are legally and ethically bound to keep their mouth shot by Articles 5 and 6 of the Federal Court Interpreter Code of Ethics:

5: Confidentiality.  Interpreters shall protect the confidentiality of all privileged and other confidential information.”   

“6: Restriction of Public Comment.  Interpreters shall not publicly discuss, report, or offer an opinion concerning a matter in which they are or have been engaged, even when that information is not privileged or required by law to be confidential.”

Moreover, when working as agents of an attorney, interpreters are also covered and bound by the stricter client-attorney privilege; a privilege held by the attorney’s client that gives him the right to refuse to disclose, and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications between the client and the attorney (Black’s Law Dictionary).

Rule 1.6 of the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct, reads:

“Rule 1.6 Confidentiality of Information. (a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent…”

These communications cannot be shared with the public, even with a court order, unless the client waives the privilege (there are some exceptions to the rule that do not apply to our subject matter) and the privilege extends to the attorney’s agents who are considered as action as an “extension” of the lawyer. These agents include legal secretaries, paralegals, investigators, and interpreters, among others (“United States v. Kovel,” 296 F.2d 918, 921 2nd. Cir. 1961)

In the past weeks I have read posts and comments in at least two different forums by individuals who present themselves as court interpreters  (I do not know them by name or in person) revealing information and details of private conversations between an attorney and his client. Moreover, several people have opined about the issues presented by this individual, without the slightest concern about a conduct that is definitely violating all codes of ethics, and may be illegal. I should mention that a few colleagues warned this person and asked this individual not to do this anymore, but for the most part, the person who was doing the posting, and those commenting on the post, continued their debate like noting had happened. I was so bothered by this use of the forum that I left and never went back, so I do not know how long this debate lasted; and even though I do not know the person who posted this, apparently privileged, information, I got the impression that the privileged information was not posted with the intention to breach a legal duty, but out of ignorance and a lack of desire to learn. I should mention that this person did not give names and other details that could easily identify the holder of the privilege, but there was enough privileged information for anyone interested on learning more about the case to find out who were the parties involved.

The second post that I saw was less likely to pierce the client-attorney privilege, but in my opinion it violated the rules of ethics and professional conduct in a truly disgusting way. This was a post by another person who called himself a court interpreter, and went on to argue that his “job as a court interpreter” was not boring because he saw different and new situations every day. Nothing wrong to this point, but next, he gave some examples of the “variety” of cases he is routinely exposed to, by sharing details of some of these cases, and giving his opinion about the parties involved, in a very offensive and demeaning way. These are some of this individual’s comments: “…The… family was lying through their teeth, but… (the) officials were gullible enough to grant them asylum…” and how about this one: “…hours of telephonic interpreting for illegal immigrants… (I) had to hear and interpret a lot of BS…” or this more troubling one: “…defendant asked why he doesn’t qualify for (a legal benefit) the answer was… he had to rat about the people who paid… for his defense…”  Unlike the first case I mentioned above, this individual received many warnings and criticisms for doing what he did, and I believe that for this reason, within a week, this person went back to the same forum and now alleged that the cases were real, but that he had “…added imaginary twists, actions or actors…” that although most (not all) of the cases were not real, “…for the purpose of initiating an intelligent debate, (he) presented them as actual, real cases…” and claimed to be a victim of attacks by those who did not want any “personal opinions”.  Finally, to make things even worse, this person defended his posts by indicating that he was justified to do so, because they had been posted in a closed forum… on the internet!

I did not write this blog to attack anybody or to end the career of any colleagues or alleged colleagues. That is why I did not revealed any names of individuals or forums, and I tried to show just enough of the published posts to convey the idea of what is troubling me. I wrote this piece because I see what is going on in these social media outlets and it concerns me. I believe that the rules of ethics and professional conduct must be observed because we are professionals, and more importantly, because they affect others who confided on us as providers of this fiduciary service. It is not the same to betray your clients’ confidence and air private matters the way these people did, or to present the facts of a case to your colleagues in a professional forum, observing all professional and ethical rules, in order to get an opinion or to dissipate a doubt. This is done by all professionals: physicians, attorneys. accountants, and interpreters on a daily basis.

I think that the majority of those who have violated these rules did not know what they were doing, and I believe that social media forums, when used appropriately, are a valuable tool.  Perhaps we need to educate those who do not know the rules, and maybe we need to assess the moderators and the guidelines of some of these forums.  What we cannot allow is a situation that will leave us all in a bad place as a profession, and in an ugly position as individual practitioners; and I am not even mentioning the tremendous liability that those who violate these canons (and in some cases the law) are exposing themselves to. I ask you to share your comments on this topic, and to do so without any personal attacks.

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§ 11 Responses to Something is going on in social media that may be detrimental to the profession.

  • Patricia says:

    As regards commenting on the cases what is your opinion when that is done for pedagogical purposes within a classroom Would u object if such were the case ?

    • Patricia, that is an excellent point. Court cases can be used as examples in the classroom as long as no specific details that could reveal confidential information are disclosed. In cases involving client-attorney privilege, there can be no disclosures unless the privilege is waived by the client, or is one of the exceptions in the law.

  • Catherine Pina Arrieta says:

    What a great piece you just wrote. It needed to be said and I can’t tell you how much I agree with you! On everything…. nothing to add. Thank you for taking then time to write this 🙂

  • mariosphere says:

    Maintaining the confidential or sensitive nature of communications, data or other types of information among attorneys, their clients and/or interpreters is certainly wortth exploring. That social media and online forums give us a place to unload or vent is no excuse to be less than discreet.

    And discretion is an endangered species in the list of character traits that any person, interpreter or not, should possess and cultivate. No amount of rules, regulations, laws, ordinances or legal threats will change a person’s tendency to be indiscreet and to gossip about private or confidential matters.

  • Anthony Davis says:

    Your position is very clear, but I didn’t think it would be necessary for anyone to take such a stand, because it is obvious to me that such things should not be disclosed – I would say with or without permission as it may come back to haunt the person/persons revealing the confidential information. In my opinion, that is a dangerous practice and people should desist from so doing.

  • Deborah Spector says:

    I agree absolutely. We court interpreters are absolutely bound by our code of ethics and absolutely prohibited from disclosing any privileged information or making comments about the cases we cover. Yes, information from court cases can–and is–used in class, especially ethics classes but, of course, without revealing any confidential or privileged information or any identifying information about the case or the parties, or anyone else involved.
    I am aggrieved to hear that this sort of thing is going on in online posts as it certainly–and unfortunately–reflects on all of us, including those of us who maintain our moral and ethical standards and would never dream of lowering those standards, even in private, not to mention in a public forum.

  • Ivelina Vaykova says:

    Thank you for the excellent article! In any case I like to discuss more about: “we need to educate those who do not know the rules,” In some courts it is really difficult to stop an atorney of telling non-sense and asking the judge for assistance. Some parties do not understand the rules about interpreting, but I can not teach them when I am working with everybody involved in. Some of my experience I’ve got learning from old cases and other interpreters. Some cases are still concerning me – not correct use of legal terms, offensive words used to sustaine or provocate the client. I can not get any legal advice from attorneys, judges or anybody else in resolving such issues. How can I react in such cases? Several times I did correct a police officer who obviously did make a mistake asking the names and the addresses. Once I could not follow an attorney who neglected the complexety of the case /two interpreters for two different languages etc./ I asked for pause but was rejected with the motivation that the other interpreter did allready say everything and the names and numbers of laws should not be mentioned. The judge did not call me never again after that. Where can I complain in such case? Without mentioning names, dates, numbers or the case it could be obvious what I am talking about. It was for the first time in that court. And here, after years, I mention it again. Are there more strictly rules that can help us to keep the confidenciality without leaving the court with regrets? It is difficult enough to translate a different culture and legal system for to be understood by all the parties and explain why some decision may seem not “fair” but it is a law to be followed. Thank you again! For sure the moderator has to pay more attention in such forums.

  • Nabil Salem says:

    Those who cause damage should be banned from all professional blogs.

  • Mariano Torrespico Ortiz says:

    I think that the indiscreet interpreter or interpretress needs a rest from such work, and should interpret other types of assignments, until the burns heal.

  • Paloma Cerdán says:

    I could not agree more with you.
    Just as a lawyer, a doctor, a nurse or a psychologist is subject to professional secrecy, so is an interpreter. That kind of behaviour demonstrates, in my humble opinion, a very serious lack of professionalism. It is the second case you talked about I find particularly in very poor taste. Not only that person has illegally spread privileged and confidential information, but he is commenting in a degrading way on his client who, at the end of the day, is the reason that person is working.
    This is one of the major flaws of the Internet: the fact that there are people who believe that, because they are hiding behind a screen, they have the right to say or publish anything, regardless of ethical, moral or professional issues.

  • Cecilia says:

    I’m so glad to see so many of us are on the same page!

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