Information Technology and Ethics
The common use of computers in a wide range of spheres of human activity conditioned the appearance of the new disciplines. Ethics in information technology is one of such fields of study. This division of ethics is a special one, because it not only regulates relationships among people, but also the way in which the information, sometimes even private facts, concerning the lives of others should be treated. This essay discusses the main tasks and dilemmas of computer ethics. It defines why computer ethics should be treated as a separate field of study and enumerates the basic rules which have to be kept while applying modern technologies.
First of all, it is important to explain the meaning of computer ethics. Ethics in information technology is, on the one hand, a set of rules which are used for moral decision making while working with or using computer. These rules embrace both behavior in the work place (thus, they include the regulations applied to business ethics) and while working with computers. Moor, on the other hand, states that computer ethics is the analysis of the social influence of information technologies and the policy of use of such technologies. One of the major reasons of why this discipline is often studied nowadays is that computer abuse has become widespread. Several decades ago, there were only several computers on the whole globe, and now almost everyone can afford them. They are used at firms, factories, educational establishments, banks and in households.
There are many ways people can use computers and other machines to apply the information about others for their own benefit or to harm them. It is important to point at the fact that modern information technologies also give the opportunity of harming people anonymously. Moore provides the example of such behavior. When banks calculate an interest on a bank account, they often round off and one or two cents are left over. Programmers can write the programs which ‘catch’ the account leftovers and send them to the programmers’ account. This act can be regarded as stealing; however, it concerns computer ethics, since the crime could not take place if information technologies did not exist.
Apart from that, no exhaustive code of behavior for the workers in the field can be created, since there is a countless number of ways in which personal information can be misused via computers. Only the basic rules can be set.
Nevertheless, the code of computer ethics includes the following points: computers cannot be used to harm people; it is inappropriate to interfere with the other people’s work with computer; it is not allowed to access other people’s computer files without their permission; it is illegal to use computers for stealing; one cannot copy or use the software that is somebody’s property and is not paid for; it is not allowed to use someone else’s intellectual property without permission; it is necessary to think of the social consequences of the programs written and systems designed; computers should be used with respect to others (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility).
The development of technologies call for the new ethical rules because it lets do the things humans were not able to do before, such as going to space or using machines in production and modeling industries. The wide use of computers also provides the opportunity of doing the same things people did before but in a different way: communication, traveling, working, storing information. Thus the code which influences the application of computers concerns all spheres of person’s life.
Computer ethics deals with the following issues: those of privacy, accountability, property rights, and social values. The following issues may be added to the list: the social context of information technologies; computer crimes, viruses and hacking; the protection of data; intellectual property; the responsibility of professionals.
Maner maintains that much attention should be paid to the issue of ethics in information technologies because the professionals working in the field often do not notice when they break moral rules. This happens even in cases where serious abuse takes place. As a result, some of those who work with computers are not responsible enough to do their duties. The reason for such state of thing may be explained by the lack of the courses at the higher educational establishments, dedicated to computer ethics. The potential professionals are taught how to cope with the technical side of their future job but not with the moral one.
There are the following six reasons for developing ethical sensitivity in the field of information technologies:
- It will turn workers into responsible professionals.
- It will help avoid computer abuse.
- The development of computer technologies will cause temporary policy gaps.
- The wide use of computers transforms a wide range of ethical issues, so they should be studied independently.
- The advance of information technologies creates and will continue creating ethical issues which were never faced before.
- The transformation of the old ethical issues and the appearance of the new ones have the scope large enough to recognize computer ethics as a separate field.
According to Johnson, working on ethics in information technology is a significant task, since the trend for using electronic devices has made harming others easier. It is now easier than ever before to find out the location and the place of residence of any person, to find the information about different firms and companies, spread lies.
A programmer can use his/her computers to access the computers belonging to other people in order to find, change or remove their private information. Computers can also be used to monitor someone’s telephone or email communication with no one else knowing it.
The application of computer technologies blurs the line between what should and should not be done. The devices which can be found at any workplace help bosses control what their employees do. But it is hard to tell where the limit for surveillance exactly is.
It is also worth mentioning that information technology ethics concerns not only those who store, process and look for information but also those who share it. Sharing the location of where one is at the moment makes that person an easy target for the ones who do not wish them well. Posting personal pictures makes others discuss one’s personal life. In some cases, doing this might even interfere with one’s attempts to get hired. At job interviews, employers often ask candidates to provide the links for their Facebook accounts. It is hard to tell whether they have the right for this or not. Fifty years ago, interviewer would not ask candidates to bring their family pictures or show the diary. But, on the other hand, several decades ago people were not able to share their opinion and the photos from important life events with the half of the world. Bosses intrude into their workers’ life because the workers make it possible.
The fact that what is done via the Internet may have consequences in the real life is the important thing to remember. If one publically writes something abusive others may react sharply to it. If one is joking about terroristic act s/he may even expect police coming to his/her place.
Moore maintains that the biggest problem with applying computer technologies is that people trust them too much which is incorrect thing to do. No one would spend time observing the calculations done by their computers in the course of performing different actions. Thus nobody can predict where and when bugs will appear or someone will interfere with the system. The application of computerized information technologies becomes a dilemma where people either have to limit the use of machines only to the things whose importance is not very high or accept the fact that something can go wrong in the most important moment.
To conclude with, computer ethics deals with the way in which computers should be used and information technologies professionals’ behavior. The study of the rules of behavior while using modern technologies are defined as the separate field, because the advance of computer technologies caused the change in the way people communicate, work and do many other things. Computerized information technologies have become the basis for the ‘invisible’ misconduct, where people can steal someone else’s intellectual property, money and private information anonymously.
The line between the private and public has been blurred. Information technologies professionals often think that if they can access someone’s private data, they can use it. That is why special courses on computer ethics should be introduced at the higher educational establishments. It is also important to remember that one should not fully trust computers. If one applies them for something very important, then s/he may expect that something will go wrong.