Wimbledon Tennis Championship

The big concepts: Confidentiality in Interpreting

What you need to know – whether you’re a client or an interpreter

Since what we say while interpreting is not ours, it should go without saying that we cannot and should not under any circumstances disclose what we hear and, obviously, interpret. However, life is not always black and white. Most of the time we trade in different shades of grey and it may not be clear what we can share and what we cannot.

Here are a few examples off the top of my head:

Your CV and LinkedIn profile

One of the greatest perks of our profession is that we sometimes get to interpret at amazing events, in mind-blowing locations, and for super cool people and cannot even include it in our CVs or mention it in our LinkedIn profiles. A word of caution, then: always ask the organising party.

I understand the temptation to talk about it and even brag a little (or a lot), but doing so may be professional suicide or, even, a breach of contract. You may argue that mentioning it would be beneficial to you when promoting your services but -trust me- the word-of-mouth advertising for being a trustworthy professional you would get from a very pleased client is too priceless to risk over some stardust.

Selective “on record”

Some other times, it may happen that certain parts of a conference may be “on record” -such as the prepared presentations by the speakers, for example- and other parts -such as the subsequent Q&A sessions- may not. You will probably have to interpret the same statement clarifying what is on record or not at the start of each panel or roundtable to the point of learning it by heart. No chances to argue, then, that you did not know what you could repeat afterwards and what you could not.

It is also quite common for all speakers at a conference or debate to agree to being quoted on record, except for one or two, who may even wish to keep their mere attendance to the event confidential. As interpreters, we are bound by these requests just as much as any of the attendees.

Non-Disclosure Agreements

Interpreters are often asked to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). If so, and you do in fact sign one, make you sure to comply with its terms or else you may not only lose a client and tarnish your professional reputation but also get into legal difficulties. I keep a standard NDA that I offer to my clients if they do not initially bring it up themselves as a standard MCL procedure.

Chatham House Rules

When working in international forums, you will likely hear someone invoke the Chatham House Rule. These rules were created in 1927 to foster free discussion and are widely used across the globe – and of course, apply to the interpreters working during the event as well, even if no NDA was signed and the organiser is OK with you including the event in your CV.

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.” www.chathamhouse.org

Professional Code of Conduct

Finally, interpreters who are members of a professional association are bound by its Code of Conduct, turning said membership into an indirect assurance of an interpreter’s seriousness and commitment to professional ethics and their professional community.

By now, you are probably thinking “but I can surely tell my friends and family even if I don’t post anything online and refrain from telling my colleagues. Right?” Well, to quote my mentor back home, “when in doubt, zip it!

“Reputation is the most critical of your assets. And once it’s damaged, it’s almost impossible to repair.” Ekaterina Walter

Useful Resources

  • AIIC’s Code of Professional Ethics – Read more here.
  • UK ITI’s Code of Professional Conduct – Read more here.
  • AATI’s Code of Ethics (in Spanish) – Read more here.

Photo by MCL – Every summer, Wimbledon is taken over by tennis fans from all over the world. It is fun!

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