Friday, September 25

Ethics of returning classified documents

I found a McMaster student union executive's folder in the desk in my econometrics class this afternoon. I know it belonged to the executive becuase I opened the folder and his business card was in the front. When I opened it, I noticed a letter about a student union personnel matter that was obviously supposed to be confidential.

Without thinking about it much, I returned the folder to the executive's office after my class. But when I mentioned the folder to a friend of mine who works at the McMaster student newspaper, he said the newspaper had been trying to find out details on the issue in the letter, and noted the folder would have been a great story if I held onto it.

But as a journalist myself, did I do the right thing returning the documents?

Or is the fact that a high level student union administrator left sensitive documents in public news at the campus level? Certainly, when federal cabinet minister Maxime Bernier left classified documents at his girlfriend's house, it dominated the news for weeks. And when natural resources minister Lisa Raitt's aide left behind classified documents at a CTV station, CTV had no qualms sharing their contents with the public.

Did I cost the McMaster student paper a chance to get a juicy story by not holding onto the documents? Or did I do the right thing by returning something that an individual clumsily left in a classroom by mistake? I'm not too sure.