Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values
Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.
Queensborough Community College, CUNY
Chapter 10 Information Technologies and
Professionalism and Professional Codes
If the creation of computer technology and the development of software and the creation and operation of information networks are all activities of professionals then those engaged in these activities might be thought of as having the professional responsibilities that go with that status. Such responsibilities are rooted in the notion that professions are recognized by society for the value they contribute to society in enhancing its resources and supporting its cohesion and progress. If computer technicians and engineers and network administrators and software designers are professionals then they have professional responsibilities and can be held responsible for their failure to observe and discharge those responsibilities.
Are these occupations professions? This is not such an easy question to answer at this time because society has not acted in all cases of these occupations to extend the recognition through legislation to them. There are some indications of a willingness and a need to do so in the case of software engineers. In time this may extend to the other categories of people engaged in the computer technologies such as network engineers and programmers. For now, the trend towards professionalization is to be noted and followed for what it portends for those in the various fields associated with these technologies.
At their quarterly Board meeting held June 16 -17, 1998 in Ft. Worth, Texas, the Texas Board of Professional Engineers adopted software engineering as a distinct discipline under which engineering licenses can be issued. They have an Administrative Code: Professional Conduct and Ethics see also SOFTWARE ENGINEERING: An Examination of the Proposed Actions by the Texas Board of Professional Engineers by John R. Speed, P.E., Executive Director, April 30, 1998.
Virginia Institute of Technology has a program for professionalism in Computing and offers a "digital library" portion that provides access to the special topics pertinent to the studies of the responsibilities and expectations of a computer scientist.
There has already begun the state licensing of computer software specialists as professionals. Both computer engineers and software engineers are aspiring to and being recognized as having the status of professionals. With the recognition for being a professional there comes with that special moral rights and responsibilities associated with the profession. So just what would merit that association for computer specialists?
Professionals have relationships simultaneously to their colleagues and employers and to the public and to the profession itself. Just what are the professional responsibilities of those associated with computers and information networks and the internet? How are conflicts in those responsibilities to be handled? How is accountability it to be determined when harms result from use of any of the computer technologies?
The International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)²®, is the internationally recognized Gold Standard for educating and certifying information security professionals throughout their careers. They have a code of ethics for their certified members. AS with other professional organizations it is a set of prescriptions mindful of the relation of professionals to other professionals and to those they serve and to society as a whole. It includes:
Protect society, the commonwealth, and the infrastructure
Promote and preserve public trust and confidence in information and systems.
Promote the understanding and acceptance of prudent information security measures.
Preserve and strengthen the integrity of the public infrastructure.
Discourage unsafe practice.
Act honorably, honestly, justly, responsibly, and legally
Tell the truth; make all stakeholders aware of your actions on a timely basis.
Observe all contracts and agreements, express or implied.
Treat all members fairly. In resolving conflicts, consider public safety and duties to principals, individuals, and the profession in that order.
Give prudent advice; avoid raising unnecessary alarm or giving unwarranted comfort. Take care to be truthful, objective, cautious, and within your competence.
When resolving differing laws in different jurisdictions, give preference to the laws of the jurisdiction in which you render your service.
Preserve the value of their systems, applications, and information.
Respect their trust and the privileges that they grant you.
Avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance thereof.
Render only those services for which you are fully competent and qualified.
Advance and protect the profession
Sponsor for professional advancement those best qualified. All other things equal, prefer those who are certified and who adhere to these canons. Avoid professional association with those whose practices or reputation might diminish the profession.
Take care not to injure the reputation of other professionals through malice or indifference.