Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Could "online reputation" lead to trouble for Americans overseas, as in Islamic countries or in China?; what about contractors?

Much of the Islamic world is unstable and subject to terrorist attacks that could endanger American tourists. And other parts of the world have laws and practices that could be troublesome to Americans. When you’re overseas, you’re subject to the laws and the legal practice (which may not have constitutional protections for human rights familiar to us) and embassies and consulates may not be able to help.

This is a good time to note the State Department’s website on Current Travel Warnings, here. Saudi Arabia is on the list, and the religious laws within the Kingdom can be especially tricky for American visitors, as explained there. I recall contractors who worked there in the 1970s telling me about the "religious police" coming onto compounds of foreign workers to look for alcohol. There are serious restrictions on the movement of married women and requirements for consent from their husbands that are explained on the link.

Countries not on the specific list with current travel warnings often receiving intermittent adviories. You can go to the International Travel Home here and use the map with countries to locate the rules for each country. The page has a link warning visitors that US law prohibits sexual activity overseas with those under 18 and certain other related activities.

Egypt is a good example. Although popular for professional tours because of the Pyramids and other archeological sites, there are some serious rules.

China is another example. It is easy to get into trouble with authorities, and persons involved in “business disputes” may be detained, and sometimes persons have been held hostage.

In early 2002 I considered visiting Egypt, to see the Pyramids and other attractions. I did not because of cost, but I now have another question. I wonder if a person’s “online reputation” in the United States could make the person a target in a foreign country. For some countries, the State Department recommends that visitors “keep a low profile.” But it would seem logical that authorities could look up a person on search engines (with local filters removed) to see if the person has written unfavorably about the culture or government (whether Islam or China) being visited. I wonder if this could be a problem for contractors sent overseas by their employers. It would seem logical that employers could need to check for this and this could become a whole new area of “online reputation defense”, as mentioned yesterday on Dr. Phil, where the “Reputation Defender” CEO Michael Fertik was present.

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