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I have doubts (on ethical grounds) about taking on a certain assignment
Thread poster: In Polish Words

In Polish Words  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:53
Member (2011)
English to Polish
Feb 24, 2012

I am in a process of establishing my own business as a freelance translator in the UK and have been approached recently to translate some written and recorded communications between two alleged lovers for someone who thinks that their girflriend is cheating on them... I am interested to hear your thoughts on how to approach this subject. Personally, I feel that I don't really want to get involved in a situation like this, especially not knowing how these conversations have been obtained... but maybe there is another way of looking at it... What do you think as an experienced translator?

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Giuseppina Gatta, MA (Hons)
Member (2005)
English to Italian
+ ...
None of your business Feb 24, 2012

All you have to do is translating. The rest is none of your business, unless you also work for police or something.

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Claudia Brauer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:53
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Is confidentiality above your duty to report crimes? Feb 24, 2012

This is a question that many professional translators and interpreters face every day. You are for example in an interpreting session and the two businessmen are discussing how to scam or how to cook the books not to pay taxes, for example. Are you bound by the confidentiality rules of the profession or are you bound to report the crime? I believe that your question is pretty much along those lines because at present you are framing it as a moral/ethical dilemma, but then you might ask, was there a crime committed in obtaining such information? So, this is a situation you will be faced with throughout your professional life. In that sense, I agree with Giuseppina. We, translators and interpreters, cannot become judges of character or deputies for the law. We can only be true to the ethics of the profession, which clearly have confidentiality as one of its guiding principles. So, when I am faced with a dilemma such as yours, the question in my mind is always: the person who is paying me for the translation or interpreter is the owner of the information or the documents. Any legal issues belong to them and only to them. The "copyright" of the translation is the payor's and not yours (i.e., you are not the "owner" of the translation, unless you have specifically agreed otherwise BEFORE translating the material). Thus, the legal, moral and ethical issues pertaining to the content of the material are not yours to deal with. You, in your role as translator or interpreter, do not have the training nor the authority to judge on other individuals business or personal life. Now then, the exceptions for me are those exceptions clearly set out for example for physicians in the medical encounter: if the person is going to harm himself/herself or cause harm onto another person, then you are obliged to disclose the information to the authorities. Very good question with a tricky answer.

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Pascale Pluton  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 23:53
Member (2005)
English to French
+ ...
Money versus good feeling... Feb 24, 2012

This is what your choice is, if I am not mistaken.

Personnally, I find it hard to do something I am not happy with, whatever it is. It always kost me much more energy than anything else, for a very average result.
So I came to the conclusion that I would beter stick to things I am comfortalbe about.

Unless you are really in need of cash and can cope with that uneasy feeling, you could:
- simply refuse the job,
- accept it and subcontract it to avoid loosing the client. But this is tricky because you need to rely on a translator you trust 100% as you may not want to check the material
- refer to a colleague who is able and has no problem with the job.

The key question is : is it worth it?

I am afraid I cannot help much further...

Good luck with this decision

Pascale


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In Polish Words  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:53
Member (2011)
English to Polish
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Feb 24, 2012

I am very greatful for all the comments. They have given me food for thought... and made making my decision easier.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:53
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Follow your heart and mind Feb 24, 2012

If you think that doing this job is something you will regret later on, then let another person take care of it. I believe that everyone is entitled not to work in things that conflict with their idea of morality and ethics.

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opolt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:53
English to German
+ ...
Don't do it Feb 24, 2012

Years ago I declined a big job which was quite similar to yours. And that was from the police, obtained through a wiretapping order issued by a judge.

But no matter what, I wouldn't do it, especially if it's not clear how these recordings have been obtained.

Undermining the confidence between humans is unethical und highly destructive, and it usually backfires. At its core, it's anti-social behaviour. There may be special situations justifying it, namely in foreign relations. But whatever the circumstances, remember, there are professions or jobs which could be considered ignoble; spying is definitely one of them, at least in my book.

You see, I grew up in Eastern Germany.

You may feel guilty, even dirty afterwards, even if it's all totally legal in your jurisdiction. The only question that you have to ask yourself: imagine they did this to you, how would you feel?

And I mean, who (in the western world anyway) has not cheated his/her girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband once? If he's employing a professional spy out of fear of losing his girlfriend -- detestable. These things look exciting only in the movies.


[Edited at 2012-02-24 21:18 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:53
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Confidentiality comes first Feb 24, 2012

Claudia Brauer wrote:
Are you bound by the confidentiality rules of the profession or are you bound to report the crime?

A very tricky matter here. In this case, I think I would clearly do my work as an interpreter and forget about the matter, since confidentiality is a standard condition in my work, as happens to doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, and very many other professions... I do not think a tax violation or a scam would be powerful enough a reason to break my confidentiality duty.

It would be a different matter if I was working and the two people were discussing how to kill, rape, kidnap, or physically harm another person in any other way. In that case I would have no doubt at all and would go to the police immediately to prevent the harm.


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:53
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
I refused a similar request Feb 24, 2012

I had a somewhat similar request from a Spanish agency some time ago: the Hungarian to English translation of a skype call log.

I took a closer look: it was small talk all over, among a group of girls, with lots of typos and abbreviations that google translate would have never handled. (Even the usual mantra, "native speaker of the target language only" did not make any sense here.) Who would pay for having that translated? The only plausible explanation was: a jealous boyfriend who wanted to know what his Hungarian girlfriend discussed with her friends.

I refused this assignment, and let the agency know the reason in detail. They appreciated it.

Best,
Attila


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Paula Gordon  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:53
Bosnian to English
+ ...
aside from legality, consider your relationship with the client Feb 25, 2012

This is an interesting question. I have refused a few jobs because of the nature of the documents in question. Once it was a document that made me queasy even to read, so I just refused outright, without commenting on the contents -- this was for an agency. I deleted it and luckily over time have forgotten the details.

Another time, an individual contacted me about translating e-mails. The behavior of this person got increasingly erratic (judging by our e-mail communications). I wasn't so much worried about payment, but I got concerned when the content of the text to be translated did not match the narrative of the potential client. So I stepped away from it, deleted all files, and informed the potential client that I was no longer interested and had deleted all the files without looking closely at them (it was the truth).

I don't usually engage in soul searching when it seems that the translation is for litigation or documentary purposes (i.e., translation for the record), no matter how unpleasant or upsetting. But when I get the sense that action will be taken based on the translation, I pause to consider the potential consequences of my participation.

My main point is this: We need to be careful when accepting jobs from private individuals. When working directly with a private party (not an agency, not a lawyer or other intermediary), we have to anticipate that a client will get upset about the contents of the translated document and take it out on the translator. Or maybe the client will be humiliated or feel like the translator "knows too much" and start to stalk or threaten. Or even that the client will feel beholden in some way or feel like the translator is a magic charm (to take this to an extreme) and become fixated -- and, again, stalk or threaten.

This is where we really have to be good communicators, good listeners, and sensitive students of human nature.

[Edited -- rewritten even -- to delete some details and also (I hope) to emphasize my point.]

[Edited at 2012-02-25 19:12 GMT]


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keshab  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:23
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Refuse politely- ethical or unethical Feb 25, 2012

As a professional translator, translation is my primary duty. To keep confidentiality is also my primary obligation. Yes, it is true that some type of contents is not suitable for me. Therefore I clearly stated my disagreement to do translation on that subjects. Still there a chance to come aassignment which is against to my book of ethics. If the assignmemt come from an agency, the problem is much less because generally agencies are eager to know about rate and deadline and so they describe the content and volume of the material initially.If a private client wants to assign the job, it is better to ask him the nature of the job I(with an excerpts of document). If I think it is not suitable for me I can easily decline the job stating I am not in position to take any new job for this time. In no way I would express my ethical barrier to the client because it would be unprofessional. Just like that medical professional who cannot refuse a peatient to treat because he is a hard core criminal. Ethics is a two-way knife- Relative and Eternal. Your problem may be a relative one- which you think is unethical, another may not think so and will do the job. But some issues are eternal- e.g. conspiracy against my country (or any country), violation of law etc. which must be refused by total translator community.
Last but not the least- my two pence- do according to your mind but take care about your reputation in the industry.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:53
Spanish to English
+ ...
I agree Feb 25, 2012

Giuseppina Gatta, MA (Hons) wrote:

All you have to do is translating. The rest is none of your business, unless you also work for police or something.


This issue has come up before in similar situations. At the end of the day, it really is up to you on a personal level. If you are not comfortable or feel there is something wrong going on, you are free to decide not to take part in it, although personally I don't see anything wrong with the scenario described. Even if the putatively scorned lover were later to murder the couple in a rage on the basis of the information in the translated text, I would still attach no blame to the translator.


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xxxValerie35
Local time: 23:53
German to English
Don't quite understand Feb 25, 2012

I don't really understand that drama. Either do the job or don't, it will get done by someone either way, and either way your job is to simply convey the information from one medium to another (not acting on the information in any way). You may not be right in your speculation about what it is for, but in any case you can also refuse to provide your service for any reason at all or no reason at all.

I have occasionally heard of something far worse: Translators who push the meaning in their desired direction in a text with political content (that goes against their grain) or the like.

opolt wrote:

And I mean, who (in the western world anyway) has not cheated his/her girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband once?


I haven't. While many people do cheat, I nevertheless find your point of view a bit bizarre - kind of like, "Hey, who hasn't stolen money once in a while."

[Edited at 2012-02-25 09:43 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:53
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
The doubt lasts forever Feb 25, 2012

I reckon that when you translate this kind of stuff, the doubt as to whether you are doing the right thing remains for a long time. I remember a transcript job we were offered, in which we worked on an audio recording of a meeting with a major public figure.

The audio was very probably recorded without the parties (or some of them) knowing that it was, and our doubt was whether this was going to be used to damage the person in question or in his favour (the other people in the meeting had nothing to lose in the matter).

Now after a very long time and now that the matter has been aired all over the place, I still have doubts as to whether we did the right thing or not. After all, it would have been done by other people and maybe not with the same effort we invested. If our work was finally used, at least I can be quite sure that the transcript was very true to the conversation.


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:53
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Ethics and professionalism Feb 25, 2012

Reading the replies to this posting, I find the suggestion in some of them that ethics are unprofessional very disturbing. Should we just translate what we are paid to translate however harmful that may turn out to be for any particular individual or for society as a whole?

Many years ago, I had the privilege of working for an editor of a professional journal who put his job on the line when he refused to publish a paper on ethical grounds (it involved very unethical research methods, which were, moreover, gratuitous as they did not contribute any scientific value). The letter of refusal stated this clearly. The author complained to the large corporation involved in backing the research, and they threatened to withdraw their (very valuable) advertising if the paper was not published. The editor was called to a board meeting and told that it was none of his business to make ethical judgments and that the paper should be published. He refused and challenged the board to sack him; they didn't and the paper was rejected. The editor concerned was not many years off retirement and was risking not only his job, but a substantial effect on his pension. I saw him when he came out of the board meeting and before he knew the board's final decision and I believe that he didn't hesitate about doing the right thing, because it concerned his identity as a person.

I think we can, in the course of our work, be faced with situations that challenge the ethics that define our personal identities, what makes us human. The definition of when a situation falls into that category is a question of one's own judgement. Having those boundaries is essential and the idea that it is somehow unprofessional to have them is dangerous nonsense. The difference between professionals and lackeys is that the former exercise judgement about what they do and the latter are for hire to do anything for anyone who pays for their services. Powerful people and institutions in our society may try to cynically persuade us that being "professional" means taking the money without questioning what we are being paid to do. Translators should recognise the contradiction involved.

[Edited at 2012-02-25 10:16 GMT]


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