As is now well known, somebody hacked into the website of Ashley Madison–an online firm that facilitates adultery–and then posted a lot of its information on the internet. Now the company is facing a large class action lawsuit on behalf of clients whose information was, they claim, inadequately safeguarded. Understandably, those who run the site have complained bitterly about the hack.
Their complaints are understandable. But are they well-grounded?
Of course they are well-grounded–but only in the traditional morality that Ashley Madison is helping to destroy for profit. To that extent, Ashley Madison’s complaints seem empty and self-serving.
Those who hacked into Ashley Madison’s site and then posted what they found are of course guilty of theft. Theft is a violation of the Ten Commandments, which express a morality that was, until relatively recently, accepted by the vast majority of Americans. On the other hand, adultery is also a violation of the Ten Commandments; and Ashley Madison exists to promote adultery. We could then ask why Ashley Madison insists on other people obeying this traditional morality while it makes money by encouraging people to violate it.
Of course, some people will respond that not everybody believes in the Bible. Fine. But this is not just a question of whether or not one accepts a revealed religion. Hardly anybody thinks that we know theft is wrong only because the Bible forbids it. Rather, everybody knows that theft is wrong, just on the basis of human reason. The prohibition on theft is part of what C.S. Lewis calls “the Tao” in his great book The Abolition of Man. For Lewis, the Tao is made up of the elementary principles of morality that human beings know simply by being rational human beings. It is the first principles of morality that the mind of a normal person sees and accepts.
But the moral principles that Ashley Madison chooses to trample underfoot are equally part of the Tao. Everybody really knows that adultery is wrong. This is not a bourgeois prejudice but a moral principle acknowledged almost everywhere. And even if the prohibition on adultery were not part of the rational morality evident to all decent people, it certainly is the case that the prohibition on breaking promises is part of that morality. But adultery is a form of promise-breaking, since married couples ordinarily promise sexual fidelity to each other.
So the hackers violated Ashley Madison’s rights of property and privacy. But Ashley Madison exists to help some people to violate the rights of their spouses. They have no good grounds on which to complain about the violation of their rights so long as they help to violate the rights of others.
By the way, Ashley Madison could not honestly claim that it is just facilitating so-called open marriages, and therefore is not violating the rights of innocent spouses. The symbol they use to promote their service is a woman with her finger raised to her lips in the universally recognized sign of “shh.” In other words, they make no bones of the fact that they exist to facilitate secret activity–activity that must be kept secret because it necessarily dupes and defrauds a spouse who has been promised a fidelity that is not actually being delivered.