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What is Who Watches The Watchers?

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Who watches the watchers is the idea that political and security power structures require transparency and oversight or they are likely to abuse their power resulting in chilling effects on society, culture and economic activity. It is a political concept that dates back to Plato's Republic.

Separation of Powers

One common solution to who watches the watchers is the separation of powers. It is common for governments to be structured to have multiple independent branches that serve to balance power. Likewise, companies are often structured such that no one individual has too much power. A CEO is watched by a board of directors and other structures such as financial auditors.

Checks and Balances

Checks and balances is a system whereby every leader, department, team and individual contributor in an organization has limited power and is watched by a transparent and open system of governance. For example, an independent governance body may allow members of the public to lodge a complaint against a government department.

Security & Secrecy

Security organizations commonly claim exemptions to checks & balances based on the idea that security requires secrecy to be effective. In some cases, they claim the right to hide entire programs, technology and operations from the public or the government itself. The watchers rarely want to be watched.
Overview: Who Watches The Watchers
The idea that political and security power structures require transparency and oversight.
Often attributed to the latin "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" literally "Who will guard the guards themselves?" that first appears in a 2nd century satire by Juvenal. However, this was a comedy about a man who is trying to ensure the fidelity of his wife by posting guards at her door.
The first reference to the concept of who watches the watchers is Plato's Republic, although he doesn't use the phrase itself.
Related Concepts

Business Ethics

This is the complete list of articles we have written about business ethics.
Agency Cost
Conflict Of Interest
Crony Capitalism
Do No Harm
Dual Agency
Environmental Issues
Ethical Climate
Ethical Issues
Fee Splitting
Fiduciary Duty
Professional Ethics
Reputational Risk
Right To Know
Self Dealing
Technology Ethics
More ...
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Business Ethics

A list of issues and principles related to business ethics.

Trade Secrets vs Right To Know

Two legal concepts that commonly collide.

Conflict Of Interest

A few examples of conflict of interest.

Fiduciary Duty

An overview of fiduciary duty.

Precautionary Principle

An overview of the precautionary principle.

Professional Conduct

The primary elements of professional conduct.


The definition of accountability with examples.


Examples of common business and personal values.


The definition of agency with examples.

Gaming The System

The definition of gaming the system with examples.


A few basic examples of compliance.

Independent Knowledge

A definition of independent knowledge with an example.

Segregation Of Duties

A definition of segregation of duties with examples.

Internal Controls

A definition of internal controls with examples.

Conformance vs Compliance

The difference between conformance and compliance.

Administrative Burden

A definition of administrative burden with examples.

Fair Competition

The definition of fair competition with examples.

Insider Information

The definition of insider information with examples.
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