Professional ethics and values in the field of security

Professional ethics and values in the field of security

The professional staff of the Homeland Security Academic College at Wingate, Israel compiled the "Code of Ethics of Security". The purpose of this article is to present the topic of professional ethics in general, and professional ethics as it relates to the field of security, in particular; and to propose this code as a foundation applicable to all individuals and bodies active in this field.

The dictionary definition of the term professional ethics is: "Rules of conduct and ethics obligating persons engaged in liberal professions." Indeed, in the most general terms, it can be said that professional ethics is an applied term relating to the ways these individuals and groups operate. However, when dealing with the issue of "professional ethics", one must first define, or at least clarify, the term "ethics" as a term existing in its own right. This article cannot encompass the full scope of an in-depth philosophical definition; we will confine ourselves to a practical clarification of the term, which will comprise the foundation of this discussion.


The origin of the term "ethics" is in the Greek language (ethos), and its meaning: "the doctrine of morality" or "the doctrine of qualities." This is the title of a branch of philosophy dealing with the moral value of man's conduct and with the rules and principles that are intended to guide it. In other words: "a set of rules determining appropriate and desirable conduct
" The manner in which an individual conducts himself in society is characterized by behavior based on accepted standards, or by behavior that deviates from the norms of the society he belongs to, or operates in.

With respect to relations between individuals, the phrase: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" reflects the entire concept of ethics in one verse. Notwithstanding, society will generally require a broad system of "values" in order to phrase the rules of ethics that will guide its conduct.

"Ethics is a fabric woven from "qualities" and "values".

"Qualities" are the attributes guiding the conduct of an individual, as he relates to the world surrounding him (and to himself). The discussion on "man's good qualities" is as long as the history of humankind, and is expressed in the Bible, in the literature of various religions, in philosophy and in general literature along the ages.
"Values" are the tools we use for phrasing; they comprise a compass of sorts for examining moral or ethical behavior. "Values" are a "yardstick for distinguishing between good and bad".
The most important aspect for understanding the ethical issue lies in the fact that values exist in unison, and not separately, or individually. Simplistically, we can say that the greater the complexity of an individual's character, the 'denser' the set of values guiding him when confronted with a moral or ethical dilemma. Such a dilemma is also created when his aspirations, feelings, urges and personal needs clash with values. Generally speaking, the resolution of ethical dilemmas will be based on grading the values.

Dealing with the issue of ethics inevitably leads to the question whether ethics are universal in terms of their practical aspects. The debate on whether ethics are relative or absolute continues, but for the purpose of our discussion we can surmise that ethics are relative, and that therefore each society has its own set of moral guidelines, which can be totally different than the ethical norms and guidelines of other societies. In other words, there is no universal ethical code, and that which is considered ethical and valid in the eyes of one society may be considered unethical and invalid in another.

To summarize this chapter, we can also state that there is a clear distinction between a "law" or "procedure" and between "value" and "ethical code." Laws are regulations or decrees, and procedures are rules of "do" and "don't" – all of these are obligatory. They are measurable, and if one violates them he will face a penalty. No single law is a value in its own, but "abiding by the law" can certainly be classified as a value; and values, as stated above, are a "yardstick" – they cannot be measured, but assessed. Operating in accordance with values originates in consent. Ethics do not replace the law, but rather supplement it.

Professional ethics

Professional ethics are a set of rules that define the ideal conduct of persons practicing a certain profession.
Many organizations have developed an ethical code of their own, and require their employees to abide by it. Organizations' manpower includes employees in a variety of professions. The common denominator is not the profession itself, but rather the organizational identity. An organization is a human social framework that operates in a coordinated and controlled manner in order to achieve common goals. The leadership, the level of identification of the employees and the organizational culture expand the common denominator and allow assimilating the organization's values. The common denominator of persons practicing a specific profession is the fact that they are active in the same areas. However, this is usually the only thing that unites them, while in every other aspect – whether their social background, intellectual level, motivation and certainly personality – the dissimilarity is greater than the similarity. The fact that two persons have chosen the same profession does not compel them to share similarities or to identify with the same principles.

Different motivations, and certainly different personal traits, may cause people to operate in different ways. A person motivated by humanitarian causes will conduct himself differently than one who is motivated by economic considerations, or one whose primary motivation is professional advancement, or fame and prestige. In most cases, it is precisely those who deviate from the ideal who are likely to make the greatest profits. The lack of binding rules of professional ethics may bring about disorder and chaos, and diminish the entire profession.

The professional code of ethics usually comprises three elements: a general description of the profession, general guidelines and a list of values and standards that the person practicing the profession is required to adhere to. The fundamental values of the code of ethics usually remain constant, as they comprise a supreme ethical-moral outline for the relevant activities, and are very general.

Professional Ethics in the Field of Security

The basic question at the core of the issue addressed in this article is: Does work in the field of security qualify as a profession? Without relating to the regulatory aspect of this issue, this question has a definite, unequivocal answer: Security is a profession, without a doubt!

In the second half of the last century, threats of terrorism, increased violence and crime generated the need to protect society, its organizations and assets, and the information that is essential for its existence, as well as to enable the members of society to maintain a normal daily routine. This need led to the development, in Israel and worldwide, of a professional discipline that includes all the processes characterizing a profession. Security is integrated into the activities of all the governmental systems and most of the public and large private organizations, and plays an active role in ensuring that they are able to fulfill their missions and goals.

In governmental sectors in some countries, including in Israel, security and security management have been taught as professions for over three decades. They includes a common language, risk assessment standards, security systems that are adapted to the particular characteristics and needs of the secured bodies, inspection and control processes that are carried out and conclusions that are continuously drawn in the interest of continual enhancement.

Uniformity is still deficient in the civilian, business and public sectors in Israel. While some organizations have security systems that are quite effective, the effectiveness of others leaves much to be desired, when taking into consideration the resources placed at their disposal. We identify cases in which the level of security does not correspond to the level of the threat, or in which the security plan is not fully compatible with the organization's goals and/or manner of operation.

Numerous persons work in the field of security – throughout the country, in all its organizations – be they in the governmental, public or business sectors. They should share a common language and undergo training that will provide them with the knowledge and tools to plan, design, establish and manage effective security systems that will properly address the relevant threats, within the constraints of the allocated budget and resources, and the frameworks they operate in.

An organization whose security personnel undergo training will be the first to gain from this process: in addition to being better prepared for emergencies, it will benefit from enhanced management and more effective utilization of its resources, and will be able to better serve the organization's employee population and of its guests and visitors.

Prima facie, the first ethical rule of security should be not to employ a person who has not been properly and officially trained, and who has not been certified. Indeed, the Security Division of the Israel Police is presently taking action to formalize compulsory rules governing the training of security managers.

The definition of security is: "The full range of proactive, preplanned and coordinated activities that are carried out in a secured body with the aim of foiling attempts made by hostile elements to plan and carry out malicious acts."

The work of a member of the security staff, and certainly that of a security manager, is filled with ethical dilemmas resulting from the high level of friction with the various units of the organization, from the security handling of those arriving at its gates, from exposure to organizational and personal information, from handling irregular incidents and suspicious persons and from the need to be vigilant and prepared to deal with any threat, at any time.

We train security managers and senior security officers on a regular basis, and are also frequently confronted with ethical issues, when analyzing past incidents, in discussions and in exercises, when dealing with the reciprocal relations of the security manager and even with the professional content relating to planning, routine activities and emergencies.

Although the necessity to deal with ethical issues is not new, we have identified an increasing need to develop an ethical code for security. This ethical code was developed by the staff members of theHomeland Security Academy at Wingate College, with the assistance of members of the Academy's Advisory Committee, who have acquired broad, diverse know-how and experience in the academic world, the Israel Security Agency, Israel Police, in executive positions and as organizational consultants and in the civilian security sector. The document is based on numerous years of experience in the field of security, on an in-depth study of this area and on the review of ethical codes of various professions, organizations and companies.

At first, we developed this document to serve the purpose of training at the Homeland Security Academy at Wingate College and for the participants in courses carried out within its framework. However, we quickly understood that this document should be shared openly.

We hope and believe that the ethical code of security that we have prepared will be adopted by others who are active in the field of security, and will serve as one of the foundations of their work.

Click here for the ethical code of security

Nir Ran is the founder and Head of the Homeland Security Academy at Wingate College (, and the former Head of the Combat and Security Academy of the Israel Security Agency. He has filled several senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (the governmental body responsible for security in Israel) and in national security bodies in Israel. Mr. Ran holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Public Administration and a Master's degree in Geography and Disaster Area Administration.

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