Ethics and Morals in the Executive Protection Industry

The topic of ethics and morals seems to rise to the surface in the executive protection industry every time a news outlet publishes an incident regarding an EP agent (Or as they love to call them, “bodyguards”), and after the hundreds of “likes” and “dislikes”, sharing and finger pointing on social media by colleagues, these stories seem to be easily forgotten and the people involved are forgiven all too soon, and they continue to work and in many cases, repeat the same mistakes while working for new clients.


While there is a lot of talk about ‘’standards” in our industry, and that usually involves qualifications, training, and vetting, rarely do these talks refer to ethics and morals. But how can we as an industry “regulate” something that you cannot measure and is even more difficult to define, as we will see below?


The Merriam Webster Dictionary gives the definition of ethics as a) a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values, b) the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group – professional ethics, c) a consciousness of moral importance, and d) a guiding philosophy.


While the words ethics and morals are often used interchangeably, we have to highlight that they have distinct definitions. Ethics refers to the principles that govern the behavior of a group or profession, forming a codified set of rules that members are expected to follow. In contrast, morals are personal principles of right and wrong that guide individual behavior. In our industry, both ethics and morals play important roles in shaping the conduct and decisions of security professionals. Because the security industry holds a critical role in dealing with the protection of individuals, businesses, and their assets, and operates at the intersection of law enforcement, personal privacy, and corporate interest, it is vital that we have a clear ethical framework for security professionals to navigate the moral dilemmas during security operations.


Quite often, we see that many colleagues may share different opinions on what ethical may or may not be, or what they may accept as a “mistake” but not consider serious enough to isolate a specific individual. Defining morals and ethics in our profession can be challenging for many due to several factors:

  • Subjectivity and Cultural Relativity: Morals and ethics vary significantly across diverse cultures and societies. What one culture considers moral or ethical may be viewed differently by another. This cultural relativity means that on some issues there may be no universal standard for what is right or wrong.
  • Philosophical Complexity: Ethics is a branch of philosophy with various theories and schools of thought. Philosophers like Aristotle, Kant, and Mill have proposed different frameworks for understanding ethics, such as virtue ethics, deontology, and utilitarianism. Each theory offers different criteria for what constitutes ethical behavior.
  • Individual Perspectives: Personal experiences, beliefs, and values influence one’s sense of morality and ethics. These individual differences make it hard to create a single, encompassing definition. How many times have you heard people saying, “what is ethical may not be legal and what is legal may not be ethical”? There are situations for them where legal and ethical don’t go hand in hand.
  • Context-Dependence: The context in which a moral or ethical decision is made can greatly affect its interpretation. Situational factors, intentions, and consequences all play a role in determining what is considered ethical or moral in a given scenario.
  • Evolving Standards: Social norms and ethical standards evolve over time. Actions considered ethical in the past might be deemed unethical today and vice versa. This fluidity makes it difficult to pin down a static definition.
  • Emotional and Rational Components: Morality involves both emotional responses and rational deliberation. Balancing these components can be complex for some security professionals, as emotions can sometimes conflict with personal beliefs, biases, or rational ethical principles.
  • Practical vs. Theoretical Ethics: There is often a gap between theoretical ethical principles and practical ethical behavior. Real-world situations can present dilemmas where theoretical solutions are difficult to apply, adding to the complexity of defining ethics.


Ethical Principles in Security

When it comes to our industry, we have several key ethical principles that are expected to be followed by anyone involved, such as:

  • Integrity: Security professionals must uphold the highest standards of honesty and trustworthiness. This includes unbiased treatment, accurate reporting, transparency in operations, and resisting corruption and bribery.
  • Confidentiality: Protecting sensitive information and clients’ information is paramount. Security personnel must ensure that data, whether personal, corporate, or governmental, is not disclosed inappropriately or for ego boosting.
  • Accountability: Security professionals are accountable for their actions. This involves adhering to laws and regulations, being answerable for their mistakes, and taking responsibility for the outcomes of security measures.
  • Respect for Rights: Respecting the rights and dignity of individuals is essential. This includes avoiding excessive force, respecting privacy, and ensuring non-discriminatory practices.
  • Legal Compliance: Easily one of the most “forgotten” topics. Many companies and employees/contractors will try and bend or even break the law as much as they can on this. Adherence to all relevant laws and regulations is essential. Executive protection agents must ensure their actions are within the bounds of the law and must report any illegal activities or breaches they encounter. The last month, celebrity news has been buzzing about the former bodyguard of Sean “Diddy” Combs, who admitted on camera that he had witnessed his client become physically abusive with his partners. In our line of work, we see and hear many things, and how we react depends on our ethics and where we stand in life. For some, witnessing something wrong might be dismissed with thoughts like “It’s not my job to get involved” or “I don’t want to speak up and risk losing my job.” However, a client’s confidentiality and being aware of a crime happening are two very separate things. How many highly public individuals who had EP teams assigned to them were later on arrested or accused of human trafficking or illegal activities involving minors? Your job may be valuable to you, but so is someone else’s life and well-being to them. Witnessing a crime and not doing anything about it makes you an accessory to the crime.
  • Transparency, Honesty, and Communication: Being transparent about costs and charges as well as honest about the threat level and the number of agents needed is vital. Unfortunately, we have seen many companies who “exaggerate” about the threat level, so they charge for more agents on the ground. Behaving professionally includes providing truthful information about security measures, risks, and breaches, as well as explaining the reasons behind security decisions.
  • Conflict of Interest: Security professionals should avoid situations where personal interests conflict with professional duties. This includes disclosing any potential conflicts and refraining from actions that could compromise their objectivity.
  • Client Solicitation: When seeking new clients, security companies and security professionals must do so ethically and respectfully. This includes avoiding deceptive practices, respecting the confidentiality of potential clients, and ensuring that they are not stealing a client from a company they were hired to provide services for.
  • Use of Force: There are many incidents that have recently made the news, where executive protection agents were not justified in their use of force. While you may be hired to work for a public (and powerful) person keep in mind that whatever wrong you do will have a negative effect on them. And just because they may be powerful and get away with things or have the strongest attorneys, you don’t.
  • Whistleblowing: Reporting unethical practices within our industry can jeopardize careers and personal safety. Unfortunately, our industry is unforgiving to those who speak about bad business practices encountered on the job, even if you are reporting something that is illegal and harming others. Many security professionals have had to deal with the hard decision of weighing the potential harm of speaking up about unethical behavior against their careers.


Ethics and morals in the executive protection industry remain (and will continue to for quite some time) a hot topic because of the industry’s inherent challenges and the high-profile nature of its clients. Whatever happens around a high profile or public individual, and even the people around them, will be easily reported by the news and reach the attention of millions. The need to balance professional security services with ethical behavior should always be at the forefront of industry discussions.



ESI Media